Nobody should really be surprised by the conflict taking place inside the Republic of Ukraine. In their long modern history, Europeans have been at war, or in preparation for war, or recovering from one, longer than they have been at peace.
Western Europe has been the key driver of conflicts at home and globally for the last three centuries. European armies have war graves in just about every country on every continent.
The only surprise is that they have been able to keep their warlike behaviour in check for the last seventy-seven years (if we exclude the fighting that followed the 1990 break-up of Yugoslavia), since the end of their 1939-1945 war that they spread to much of the rest of the world.
And even that peace was only because they managed, for once, to come to an agreement about the thing that drives their conflicts: money.
Ambassador Martin Kimani, Kenya’s permanent representative to the United Nations did an important thing when he asserted the idea that Africans can also have an opinion on world events, drawing on the lived African historical experience.
In his February speech to the Security Council, while criticizing the then anticipated Russian military entry into Ukrainian territory, Ambassador Kimani urged Russian leaders to follow the example set by Africa’s post-colonial leaders and simply accept post-empire borders as they are. He also urged them to put their faith in international diplomacy, in order to resolve such disputes.
Deep down, these words will sound strange to European ears on all sides of the Ukraine dispute. The historical record shows that this is simply not how these people do business, and certainly not the white powers of Western Europe (which birthed other white powers like the United States and Canada). For them, war is the norm, and when they say “peace”, they mean their successful imposition of conditions to their liking on the side they have defeated.
Ambassador Kimani urged Russian leaders to follow the example set by Africa’s post-colonial leaders and simply accept post-empire borders as they are.
The conflict now located in Ukraine has been brewing for quite some time. It is an expression of a wider tension between the continuing ambitions of Western countries and economic masters against the interests of Russia in the various forms it has taken before, during and after becoming the world’s first, biggest and most powerful non-capitalist state.
There has never been a period of actual good relations between Russia and the Western European powers in over one hundred years. And places like Ukraine are where this has often played out. The great plains of Europe, lying between Russia proper and the powers of the West, made up of shifting, weaker states, have always been a buffer zone.
In the first phase, this was the fight between the German and Russian empires during the 1914-1918 war, which led to both the collapse of the Russian monarchy, and the dissolution of the German Empire.
The second phase was between 1920 and 1939, when various combinations of Western European powers sponsored rebellions, small wars and sabotage in an attempt to dislodge the communist-led Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) regime that had eventually taken over the Russian state following the collapse of the monarchy there.
This was only briefly suspended by the rise of fascism to state power in Spain, Italy and Germany, setting the conditions for the 1939-1945 war.
But this was in fact a war against Germany’s attempt to re-establish an empire to replace the one taken from it under the terms of the treaty ending the 1914-1918 war, much as it was dressed up as a war against the fascism of Hitler’s Germany. During that war, the capitalist Western powers were embarrassed to have had to make an anti-Hitler alliance with the very Soviet Union they had been trying to undermine militarily not a few years earlier.
There has never been a period of actual good relations between Russia and the Western European powers in over one hundred years.
The end of that war gave rise to the third phase, between 1946 and 1991, when the effort to remove the communists (whose reach had now expanded to control parts of central Europe) resumed and became an all-consuming fixation of Western statecraft. Now led by the United States, it re-oriented all Western political, diplomatic and military thinking to see the Soviet Union, and its satellites state, as the principal enemy.
It is in this phase, known as the Cold War, that institutions like the US-dominated military alliance known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO: 1947), the well-known American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA: 1947) in the West, and the rival Soviet-led Warsaw Pact (Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance: 1955) in Eastern Europe, were formed. This phase officially came to an end with the collapse and dissolution of the USSR in 1991. The Warsaw Pact dissolved in 1991 while, conversely, NATO has just kept on going.
Originally made up of 15 member states by 1955, and committed to mutual defence for fifty years, NATO has never properly explained why then it continues to exist. There are a number of contradictions. The Cold War itself did not last 50 years, and the NATO side won anyway, yet it has gone on to include fifteen new members, thus doubling its membership. What is more, the bulk of these new member states are former territories of the Warsaw Pact, with membership being offered to even more, such as Ukraine, which used to be part of the Soviet Union proper. In other words, NATO became twice as big as its original size after the reason for its creation no longer existed.
This brings us to the fifth phase running from 1991 to Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, which is a whole story in itself.
Russia’s unease with this expansion—expressed in a number of failed diplomatic initiatives, with Ukraine increasingly at the epicentre—was never really taken seriously. The immediate trigger begins with a 2014 coup in Ukraine that brings a pro-West government to power. There followed a series of measures against the Russian ethnic minority of Ukraine, as well as proscriptions against the symbols and legacy (both good and bad) Russia had left in Ukraine during the communist era. In particular, there was the public rehabilitation of the legacies of fascist organizations that had collaborated with Hitler’s forces during the German invasions of the 1940s, and the public tolerance of new fascist organisations. It is one issue to wonder why anyone should find it desirable to join a political identity with such a record. It is another issue to also question why such politics should be even permissible in a society claiming to be civilized.
How this invasion ends will be the start, and then the nature, of the sixth phase.
Africans are not obliged to take sides. But there is a human obligation to share knowledge and experience, as Ambassador Kimani has done. And any call for the avoidance of armed conflict is a good thing.
More than once in the last century, Europeans have dragged us into their conflicts in a bout of global racism.
Therefore, scenes of Africans being discriminated against on the Ukraine-Poland border as they tried—like many other peoples in Ukraine—to flee the looming conflict, should have been expected.
European culture is racist, and it did not become racist when it arrived in the Americas, Asia and Africa; it was its racism that took it there in the first place. What is more, Europeans actually began their racism among themselves.
Eastern Europe is Slavic country. “Slavic” is how the Eurasian people described themselves, as a concept of praise. However, these people had been conquered in the 9th Century (in other words, in yet another inter-European war), and had been reduced to what would now be called slavery.
So, Western European history ascribed a different meaning to the name. “Slavonic” was turned to mean “captive” in Latin. “Slav” is where the word “slave” in Western European languages comes from.
European racism—now directed at mainly non-white people—may be less expressive and performative at home as compared to the settler spaces it created overseas, because it is less directly in the presence of black people, and it is also more secure and confident in itself at home. But it is always there; it is just a matter of opportunity and circumstance (such as a border).
The Nazi Germany era was in many ways a condensed form of the already 400-year white supremacist project that had seen white Europeans forcibly settle themselves in the Americas from the arctic to the Antarctic, Australia, New Zealand, and all of southern Africa. In all cases, these incursions (that Hitler called “lebensraum”, literally, “space for living in”, when he applied them to Eastern Europe) began with genocides, and were sustained on them.
European culture is racist, and it did not become racist when it arrived in the Americas, Asia and Africa.
Being hemmed in militarily, Hitler’s Germany found it necessary to massively mobilize its population. It did this by appealing to their racism by victimizing a significant minority in an acute intensification of perhaps the longest standing racial prejudice in European public life; vilifying people of Jewish descent, as well as picking on its neighbours.
Underneath the usual romanticisation of the conflicts among Europeans lies the story of coal and iron. Until perhaps the 1960s, the Alsace-Lorraine region, which lies where the lands of France and Germany meet, held the largest known deposits of iron ore in the Western world. Together with the abundant supplies of the coal in the neighbouring regions, this created the opportunity for the bulk production of perhaps the most significant material to industrialization—steel.
On top of the already mentioned 1914-1918 British-German war that led to Germany’s loss of its entire global empire as well as territory closer to home, and the 1939-1945 British-French-American-Russian war against Germany, Italy, and Japan, which left Europe militarily split in half for the following four decades, there had already been the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 which had ended with German occupation of France. All these were essentially conflicts over the Alsace–Lorraine region.
It was the site of the beginnings of a reversal of fortunes for Germany in its big gamble to also invade the Soviet Union in 1941. This gave rise to the heroic politics of the Americans leading the massive landings on the shores of Western Europe in a race for Berlin, the German capital. The real panic was to try and capture Germany before the Russians advancing from the East did. Perhaps they feared that Russia would reclaim those territories it conceded to Germany as part of the process of pulling out of the 1914-1918 war in which the then new communist regime had felt it had no side.
Underneath the usual romanticisation of the conflicts among Europeans lies the story of coal and iron.
This is why from the day of the German defeat in 1945, up until its reunification in 1990, all the countries that had fought Hitler’s armies had their armies in the ridiculous situation of each controlling a cramped sector of Germany’s capital Berlin, while Berlin as a whole was itself deep inside Soviet-controlled territory (because the Soviet Union’s Red Army had overrun German territory before the Western armies got there).
Russia has always been governed by a cultural tension between its actual Asiatic roots, and an underlying tendency to embrace a more western European identity. This “Westernizer tendency” (as it is known) played a role in taking the monarchy to the degree of crisis the Russian Empire had. In trying to become more like the more industrialised powers to the west, Imperial Russia had become financially indebted to them.
The socialist revolution under the communist party put an end to this, and in so doing saved the Russian state from collapse.
All foreign investments as well as locally owned private concerns were nationalized. Furthermore, key elements of Slavic culture, such as language, were synthetized into education and science in a way that allowed for the rapid progress of the spread of education and technological knowledge. This enabled the country to make a rapid leap forward technologically, and become an industrial and military power by the middle of the last century.
The political leaders were also adept at keeping the country’s enemies at bay through military and diplomatic manoeuvring. The coming to power of the Russian communists in October 1917 only intensified this, because under the Russian monarchy, Russia had been in alliance with the big powers of the West (France and Britain), in fighting Germany in the 1914-1918 war. It was of great use partly because, being to the east of Germany, Russia formed a whole other front. Those powers were very annoyed when Russia’s new rulers pulled out of the conflict.
Russia has always been governed by a cultural tension between its actual Asiatic roots, and an underlying tendency to embrace a more western European identity.
From that moment, the fight was no longer over the respective profit-seeking factions of several empire states seeking to grab valuable territory and markets for themselves. It became a fight between all such factions collectively on the one side, versus a huge country taken over by a political party that was opposed to private profit-making to begin with, on the other.
But with this loss of a crucial ally in the ongoing war, three things were at stake for the powers to the west. Germany, which had only really united as one nation in the 1871 war (minus Austria; that would be organized later by Hitler), now had more opportunities and room to manoeuvre in the conduct of the war. There was the immediate possibility of Germany taking over all the installations and resources that the Russian forces had left scattered all over the eastern front from Finland, Siberia to the central European plains.
Second, the substantial aforementioned economic and war debts that the economic powers to the west had over broke imperial Russia were now under threat of not been honoured.
Finally, the prospect of the communist party finally taking power, especially in a major country, raised the prospect of communism (by this time a movement with nearly eighty years of struggle behind it) gaining popularity in all the major capitals of Europe. For (mainly Western European) capitalist governments, this would be a political disaster.
Germany lost the war anyway. And, as said, the big powers to the west immediately turned their attention to supporting a combination of Russian forces trying to remove the communists from power in a growing Russian civil war between 1920 and 1922. Eventually, after deploying a few military expeditions, and even engineering a couple of coup attempts, they gave up and went home. But they were to continue sponsoring Russian exile groups in sporadic incursions and attacks on the growing communist state for many years after, until 1939 when Britain and the United States, principally, needed to make an about-turn and form an alliance with the very same Soviet Union they had been undermining, against Hitler.
It paid off well; the record shows that Nazi Germany’s decisive defeat took place on the Eastern front, at great human and material cost to the Soviet Union. Russian losses to Nazi Germany exceeded 26 million people, including 10 million soldiers.
Therefore, beyond the earlier historic rivalries, by 1945 significant countries of Western Europe were collectively hostile to the Soviet Union, the culmination of a process that had begun shortly after the communist takeover of power in 1917, but which also predated it.
Indeed, as soon as the ’39-’45 hostilities ended in Europe with the capture of Berlin, the Western powers immediately reverted to a stance of armed hostility towards the Soviet Union. It is said that one legendary American General called Patton had to be removed from command because he was calling for an immediate attack on the Soviet forces in Germany, followed by the invasion of Moscow. This stance has effectively continued even after the demise of communist rule in Russia. The old game of lusting after the territories of the Balkans and beyond has resumed.
This then, is the Russian experience of Western powers, right from the start of the last century, whether as the Russian Empire, the communist state, or as the Russian Federation.
After being besieged by Western debt, what began as a free-for-all among the competing ambitious ruling classes of the various European empires developed into a quasi-unity of those ruling classes in a joint attempt to prevent the spread of communism among the ordinary people. Once that was achieved, they all went back to trying to have economic advantage over the weaker parts Europe. These were the 1990s wars over the re-division of the Baltic states, and their seduction into the Western debt-based economic system.
Whether democratic or not, any Russian head of state would do well to understand NATO’s interest in Eastern European countries now bordering Russia in this context. President Vladimir Putin, whatever one may think of him, certainly holds a sense of this history.
The old game of lusting after the territories of the Balkans and beyond has resumed.
Russia fears it may be seen as the next prize; the very name “Ukraine” literally means “border” or “frontier” in some Slavic languages. The only new development is that wealthy Russians probably also harbour the same ambitions, and wish to expand their own place in the Russian economy.
All this tells us Africans four critical things.
First, that these wars are about business: making money, or seizing territory to make money from it later. When capitalists want something, they find an excuse to start a war in order to get it. These recurrent conflicts were only suspended for the last eighty years with the creation of a trade mechanism that enabled interested European countries to access resources for their domestic industries without having to also physically control the territory. This mechanism began life as the European Coal and Steel Commission, later renamed the European Economic Commission, and then renamed again the European Commission. Today, it is known as the European Union.
To Europeans, fighting is normal. And they are very good at it, on the whole. They manufacture their own weapons, and make money out of that, too. War, for the European, is a relatively sustainable activity.
Even modest-sized European cities will have a monument (if not whole cemeteries) to the dead of more than one war. There are about 68,000 war memorials in the UK alone, and 3,000 war cemeteries in France.
Tiny Belgium holds about 800 military cemeteries for the 1914-1918, and the 1939-1945 wars alone. It is why military-style language (e.g. “to pull a flanker”, and “to steal a march”, in common English) peppers a lot of casual Western speech. It is why most Western armed forces retain standing divisions trained to be quickly transported far abroad, and to fight in terrain very unlike their home territories. Europeans (and white America) are warmongers. That is the historical and contemporary record, quite contrary to the political propaganda they produce in their media and education systems.
The second lesson is that among white powers (of which the Russian state is one) there is never any real principle involved. Millions died fighting “Nazis”, only for the politicians that sent them to their deaths to recruit those very same Nazi leaders into their own programmes.
When capitalists want something, they find an excuse to start a war in order to get it.
For example, one Arthur L. Rudolph was a German Nazi-era scientist brought to the United States in 1945 for his rocket-making expertise. He has even been honoured by the United States National Aeronautic and Space Agency (NASA). He is considered to be the “father” of the Saturn V rocket upon which the Apollo moon-landing programme depended.
More directly, one Adolf Heusinger, a German general who served as chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 1961 to 1964, had in an earlier life been a colonel in Hitler’s General Staff, and had been directly involved in planning the invasion of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union also grabbed from defeated Germany as many Nazi scientists as it could lay its hands on. But their case was handled more like a reparative abduction than the offer of an entirely new comfortable life.
Today’s enemy may become tomorrow’s friend, and today’s friend was the enemy yesterday. It is just their culture of politics, war and diplomacy. Get involved at your own risk.
Third, that when these giants fight, they do so on an industrial scale. Their conflicts often spill across other borders and territories. Their weaponry brings mass death, and their logistical and human resource needs often suck in people who have very little to do with the actual cause of the conflict. In Africa, it is only Ethiopia that has come anywhere near this scale of war-making.
Today’s Democratic Republic of Congo was plundered for the rubber and copper needed to make tires and bullet casings for the 1914-1918 war. The Lumumba-led independence government fell victim to the Cold War rivalry over Congo’s uranium deposits as part of the America vs. Soviet Union nuclear arms race.
Hundreds of thousands of black Africans faced off and killed each other as loyal soldiers of the German and British armies fighting for German Tanganyika and British Uganda and Kenya, respectively.
Ukrainians, like all peoples everywhere, matter. That is why its real independence from either power is important to the rest of the world. For the Western powers, it would be nice to have Ukraine, but Russia as a whole, is the real prize.
Whatever one may wish to now call it, Ukraine is a place of wealth and potential profit. It is the second largest country in Europe by area, holding significant reserves of uranium, titanium, manganese, iron, mercury and coal.
It is a world leader in the production and export of a whole range of agricultural products (corn, potatoes, rye, wheat and eggs, all of which are central to the processed food industry).
In Africa, it is only Ethiopia that has come anywhere near this scale of war-making.
Ukraine is also a country with a significant body of advanced industrial knowledge.
And as with the Alsace-Lorraine, and the earlier wars to dislodge the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from power, this is about Western corporations (and Russian oligarchs) looking to increase their wealth.
This is not an African story, but it is certainly beginning to look like one. In the history of the conflicts of the modern world, certain zones stand out as having suffered from the accident of being located where strategic resources were to be found. Before the DRC, there was Western Europe and the Middle East. With lots of minerals and fertile land, all that is missing in Ukraine is a population too weak, too poor, and too divided to think and speak for itself. War, autocratic government, and CIA-sponsored “good governance” workshops have been known to supply those.
Therefore, Ambassador Kimani’s advice notwithstanding, Africans are better off staying away from all this, just as Ukraine would have been wiser to stay out of the Russia-NATO rivalries.
While the white powers were not fighting in Ukraine, they were still promoting fighting somewhere else. Now that they have also kicked off in Europe, it means their unusual break of eight decades of peace is finally over. “Normal service has resumed”.
Europe is at war with Europe, in Europe, once again.
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Southern Cameroon: War and No Peace
The longue duree of the conflict in the Southern Cameroons, the rise of the current Ambazonian movement, as well as the dismal prospects for conflict resolution.
In power since 1982, Cameroon President Paul Biya has ruled autocratically for more than four decades. While Cameroon is officially bilingual, one manifestation of such authoritarian governance is the persistent marginalization of the minority English-speaking population in the Northwest and Southwest regions, the former British Southern Cameroons. Since 2016, in the face of state violence, peaceful protests by Anglophone groups have morphed into armed conflict in which separatist groups are fighting for an independent Republic of Ambazonia. In its sixth year, this hidden and neglected war has killed thousands and forcibly displaced more than one million people. Biya’s autocratic regime remains intent on a military solution to a political problem, uninterested in peace negotiations, and with little or no external pressure.
The colonial and post-colonial roots of this contemporary conflict are well-known to English-speaking Cameroonians. Originally a German colony (1884-1916) called Kamerun, after World War I, it was divided between France (80 percent) and Britain (20 percent), under League of Nations and then United Nations mandates. Britain subdivided its territory into Northern and Southern Cameroons and governed them as part of Nigeria. A botched reunification process occurred at independence in 1960 and 1961. French Cameroun and Nigeria gained their independence in January and October 1960 respectively. In February 1961, an UN-organized plebiscite was held to decide the future of Northern and Southern Cameroons, with the choice of joining either independent French Cameroun or Nigeria, but not independence as a separate state. Northern Cameroons voted to join Nigeria, while Southern Cameroons voted to join Cameroon. The terms of reunification between Southern Cameroons and French Cameroun were then agreed upon at the Foumban constitutional conference in July 1961, resulting in the Federal Republic of Cameroon, consisting of two federated states: West Cameroon (former Southern Cameroons) and East Cameroon (former French Cameroun).
The Federal Constitution came into effect in October 1961, with the federal system perceived to uphold the bi-cultural and bi-lingual nature of Cameroon within which the state of West Cameroon retained some autonomy, inclusive of separate governance structures and distinctive legal and educational institutions. However, federalism was short-lived, despite article 47 of the Constitution stating it to be “indissoluble.” In May 1972, President Ahmadou Ahidjo held a controversial national referendum that led to the abolition of the federal constitution and the creation of a unitary state called the United Republic of Cameroon. The 1972 referendum removed West Cameroon’s autonomous governance structures, most notably the West Cameroon House of Assembly.
In 1984 President Biya re-named the country, in French, as La Republique du Cameroun, returning to the name before reunification with Southern Cameroons. Writing in 1985, the barrister Fon Gorji Dinka described the 1972 referendum as a “constitutional coup” and the 1984 decree as an “act of secession” of La Republique du Cameroun from the 1961 union with Southern Cameroons. Current Anglophone separatist groups call themselves “restorationists,” fighting for the “restoration” of the state of Southern Cameroons or Ambazonia, and perceive this as an anti-colonial struggle given that British colonization was replaced by colonization by La Republique du Cameroun in 1961.
Although the current violence in Southern Cameroons is unprecedented, today’s conflict is a consequence of longstanding Anglophone grievances coupled with a strategy of “denial and repression” by the Francophone-dominated state towards Cameroon’s so-called Anglophone problem. Being Anglophone in Cameroon goes beyond language to encompass a cultural identity that has a history linked to Britain and a set of distinctive institutions. For decades, many Anglophones have felt that the Francophone-dominated state’s policy of assimilation has attempted to erode that identity, and feel treated as second-class citizens within Cameroon, with marginalization experienced in the socio-cultural, political, economic, and linguistic fields.
Anglophone opposition has risen at different times. In the early 1990s, political liberalization enabled Anglophone-specific trade unions, interest groups as well as political groups to emerge, advocating for Southern Cameroonian interests, notably the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC). Of particular note were the All-Anglophone Conferences (AACI and AACII) held in 1993 and 1994 and attended by more than 5,000 delegates from Anglophone organizations and associations. AACI’s Buea Declaration I called for a return to two-state federalism, but total disregard of such demands by Biya’s regime led to secession being placed on the agenda in the declaration from AACII. The aim was stated as “the restoration of the autonomy of the former Southern Cameroons which has been annexed by La République du Cameroun.” SCNC in particular advocated for secession, but notably by non-violent means through the “force of argument rather than the argument of force.”
These long-standing grievances re-emerged in late 2016 with peaceful protests by lawyers and teachers against the francophonization of the legal and educational systems in the English-speaking regions. Lawyers were unhappy about the appointment of French-speaking magistrates educated in civil law and unfamiliar with common law, as practiced in the Anglophone regions, while teachers were concerned about the influx of French-speaking teachers. Separately, they undertook strike action and demonstrated in October and November 2016 respectively. These peaceful protests were violently dispersed by the security forces using tear gas and bullets, with some fatalities and many arrests. Following this violence, the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) was established, advocating a return to pre-1972 two-state federalism. CACSC initiated “Operation Ghost Towns Resistance,” with closures of schools and businesses in the Northwest and Southwest regions on selected days as a tactic of non-violent resistance. The government’s response in January 2017 was to ban the Consortium, along with SCNC, and arrest their leaders on treason and terrorism charges, as well as a three-month internet blackout. Writing in April 2017, sociologist Piet Konings and anthropologist Francis Nyamnjoh likened the Francophone-dominated state’s approach to Anglophone grievances to that “of a workman whose only tool is a hammer and to whom every problem is a nail.” One consequence was that separatist voices became stronger.
State repression of, first, legitimate expression of grievances and, second, peaceful advocacy of federalism, led to increasing calls for secession of Southern Cameroons. Following the banning orders, existing separatist organizations, largely active in the diaspora, came together to form the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF), with Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, previously involved in CACSC, appointed as chairperson. While advocating secession, his strategy remained non-violent, echoing SCNC’s position in the 1990s. Divisions shortly became apparent, however, with Ayaba Cho Lucas, leader of the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC), one of SCACUF’s constituent organizations, advocating armed struggle.
While SCACUF’s leadership remained largely outside of Cameroon, notably in Nigeria, civil disobedience continued in the Northwest and Southwest during 2017 with widespread support for the weekly “Ghost Town” days. The state’s response was military occupation, with arbitrary arrests and detention of young men on the pretext of supporting secessionism. In response, the AGC announced the deployment of their armed wing, the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF), with the first attack on September 9, 2017 in which three soldiers were killed. On October 1, 2017, the anniversary of Southern Cameroons’ independence from Britain, the independent Republic of Ambazonia was declared by SCACUF, alongside mass demonstrations in which 17 people were killed by state security forces. The SCACUF transformed itself into the Interim Government of Ambazonia (IG) on October 31, with Ayuk Tabe as President. The state intensified its militarization of the Anglophone regions, and on November 30, 2017 President Biya declared war on the secessionists, described as “terrorists.” Armed conflict continues to date.
War causes misery. Over five years later, the impact on the four million population has been severe. While figures are approximate and underestimated, at least 6,000 people have been killed and hundreds of villages razed, with 1.1 million people displaced by 2020, including 70,000 registered refugees in Nigeria, and 2.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance. School closures have caused education disruption to hundreds of thousands of children for years. Gross human rights violations committed by both warring parties have been widely documented, including by the Cameroon-based Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa. The military is accused of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, unlawful imprisonment, torture, as well as the burning and destruction of homes, schools, and health centers. Armed separatist groups are accused of kidnappings and extortion of civilians, killings of alleged informants (so-called “blacklegs”), and beatings of teachers and students for non-compliance with the school boycott. Evidence indicates that the security forces are responsible for a greater proportion of the various atrocities, with the World Bank stating that government forces have caused 10 times as many civilian deaths as separatist armed groups. Rape and other forms of sexual violence have increased dramatically, described as “pervasive” and “rampant” in a UN report, and perpetuated with impunity by the military and non-state armed groups. As in other conflicts, rape has been used as a weapon of war, terrorizing local communities into submission and grossly violating women and girls.
The Cameroon government’s approach to the war was described recently as one of “hammer and lies,” in other words, military force alongside a disinformation campaign. The government continues to fight a counter-insurgency war, while simultaneously denying that a conflict exists, preferring to refer to a “security crisis” in the English-speaking regions, one which is largely resolved with a Presidential Plan of Reconstruction and Development in place from 2020. The lie to this is evident by Biya’s deployment of a new military commander and special elite forces to the two regions in September 2022. Essentially Biya seeks a military victory by crushing the separatists. But how strong is the Ambazonian movement and what threat does it entail to the Cameroonian state?
Like similar movements, the Ambazonian movement has political and military wings. Leaders of the political wing are mainly based in the diaspora or imprisoned in Cameroon, with significant divisions between them. The military forces, known locally as the “Amba Boys,” comprise up to 30 armed groups across the two regions. Initially, the main political split was between the Interim Government (IG) led by Ayuk Tabe and the Ambazonia Governing Council (AGC) led by Cho Lucas. However, in January 2018 Ayuk Tabe and nine other IG leaders were arrested in Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon. They were detained without trial, then all sentenced to life imprisonment by a military tribunal in August 2019. With Ayuk Tabe detained, US-based Samuel Ikome Sako was elected as interim IG president. However, infighting ensued with a split in early 2019 between “IG Sisiku” and “IG Sako.” Despite its initial rivalry with the Interim Government, the AGC supported the IG Sisiku faction and formalized cooperation ties in August 2019. In 2021, the AGC also formed an alliance with Biafran separatists in Nigeria, the Indigenous People of Biafra. Cho Lucas has also encouraged Francophone Cameroonian groups to take up arms against Biya’s regime.
Militarily, while the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF) remains the largest group, there is a proliferation of smaller armed groups, for instance, the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (SOCADEF), Ambazonia Restoration Forces, Red Dragons, Tigers of Ambazonia, and Vipers, comprising around 4,000 fighters in total. Allegiance with the political factions varies, with Red Dragons and SOCADEF believed to be aligned with IG Sako, for instance, while other armed groups operate quite independently. Initially, equipment was rudimentary, including hunting rifles and machetes. But the armed groups’ combat strength has increased through the acquisition of more sophisticated weaponry, including improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket launchers, with a greater intensity of operations. Precise figures are unknown, but both sides have lost considerable numbers of combatants.
The fragmentation of political leadership has led to disagreements and multiple policy directions. In response to the Swiss peace initiative, IG Sako formed the Ambazonia Coalition Team (ACT) in September 2019 to present a joint platform for negotiation. However, IG Sisiku refused to participate. Opposing policies over “lockdowns” (or “Ghost Towns”) and the so-called “liberation war tax” on civilians also indicate a lack of unity. The multiplicity of voices over policy directions is symptomatic of the disconnect between the diasporic leadership and their militias in Cameroon, with the absence of political authority on the ground.
While the war is unremitting and the government was forced to deploy special elite forces in September 2022 to bolster its counterinsurgency efforts, fragmentation and division amongst Ambazonian groups have weakened the movement.
As recently stated, the international response to the Cameroon Anglophone conflict has been “feeble.” with little or no pressure from Western governments and no political intervention from the AU or UN. Why is this? The Cameroon government’s “lies and disinformation” strategy has been relatively successful in hiding the reality of the war, and Western governments have prioritized economic and geo-strategic interests that require friendly relations with Biya’s regime. For the UK, for example, this included an off-shore natural gas deal in June 2018, and a UK-Cameroon Economic Partnership Agreement in April 2021. For France, its longstanding Françafrique policy prohibited criticism of the Cameroon government, evident in July 2022 when President Emmanuel Macron’s visit made no public reference to the Anglophone conflict. Stronger statements have come from the US Congress. House of Representatives’ Resolution 358 (July 2019) and Senate Resolution 684 (January 2021) which called for both warring parties to end all violence and pursue broad-based dialogue to resolve the conflict. However, neither congressional resolution has led to any significant action by the US government.
The African Union’s lack of response contrasts with the AU-led peace process in the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia, for instance. Cameroon’s membership of the AU’s Peace and Security Council has ensured its internal conflict has not been discussed. Similarly, successful lobbying by Cameroon’s diplomats has kept the conflict off the agenda of the UN Security Council.
More than forty years of autocratic and centralized rule under Paul Biya means that the Francophone-dominated state is intent on maintaining its control over Southern Cameroons, with little or no concession to Anglophone grievances, and currently unwavering from pursuing a military solution to a political problem, whatever the cost to the English-speaking population. The lack of international pressure has contributed to enabling the regime’s hard-line stance. However, the outlook of the Anglophone population would seem to have changed irrevocably. The unprecedented military occupation, repression, and violence from the Francophone-dominated state have given rise to a shift in consciousness. Although the desire for peace is profound, the political status quo is no longer tolerable. Any peace settlement will necessitate that the Anglophone population determines its future, for instance by means of an internationally-supervised referendum on constitutional arrangements, with options including federalism and independence.
If the decolonization process of the Southern Cameroons in 1960 and 1961 was botched and contravened the original UN Trusteeship Agreement, then decision-making on Southern Cameroons constitutional future has to be fully democratic some 60-plus years later.
Worked to Death: Lack of a Policy Framework Fails Kenyan Migrants in the Gulf
The government’s failure to adopt a labour migration policy has left Kenyan migrant workers in the Gulf region open to abuse, torture and even death.
Reports by various institutions including Parliament, the Ombudsman and NGOs have established that the Kenyan government’s failure to develop a comprehensive policy and legal framework continues to put at risk thousands of Kenyan migrant workers in the Middle East and especially in the Gulf.
There could be anywhere between 100,000 and 300,000 Kenyan migrants in the Gulf countries. No one knows for sure as the Kenyan government doesn’t keep accurate records, though its estimates are at the lower end of the spectrum. Most are unskilled laborers, in sectors such as construction, hospitality and domestic work, and their numbers are expected to keep growing given the Gulf’s high demand for inexpensive foreign labour. Labour abuses in the region are widespread, systemic and deadly. And while the government has developed policies enabling Kenyans to seek employment abroad, it has been much slower to act to protect them once they are there, seemingly more interested in the remittances they send home rather than in their safety.
Concerns over the safety of workers, and especially the safety of domestic workers, in the Gulf and the Middle East in general are not new. In 2014, following the deaths of Kenyan workers and accusation of widespread abuses, the Kenya government suspended the export of workers to the region, revoking the licenses of 930 recruitment agencies involved in the trade. The ban was only rescinded in 2017 following the signing of bilateral labour agreements with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, the issues that had precipitated the ban, and the government inaction that had preceded it soon resurfaced.
At least 93 Kenyans died while working in the Middle East between 2019 and 2021, many of them in Saudi Arabia, the third largest source of remittances with Kenyans in that nation sending back KSh22.65 billion in the first eight months of 2022 alone. A study by the University of Chicago released in December 2021, whose findings reflect the experiences of Kenyans who had returned from the Gulf, found that “practically everyone heading to [Gulf Cooperation Council member states, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates]… would become a victim of forced labour at some point”. Over 98 percent of respondents claimed to have experienced some form of workplace abuse, or had been unable to leave an abusive employment situation. The abuses included physical violence, threats, restrictions on movement and communications, being forced to do something they did not want to do, denial of food and shelter, unfair and unsafe work environments, and deceptive contracts.
Parliament and other constitutional bodies have noted the absence of laws and regulations to secure the welfare of Kenyan labour migrants, and even recommended as recently as November last year, that labour migration to the Gulf be temporarily stopped until these are addressed. However, much of the focus has been on streamlining the system for recruitment and processing of migrants heading to the Gulf, rather than on fixing the conditions they face when they get there. For example, whilst the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Labour and Social Welfare, which visited the Middle East in April 2021, noted Kenya’s lack of a policy and a law to govern the migration process, its main thrust appears to be about reforms Kenya can make to make it easier for migrants to secure jobs. In its account of meetings with Saudi labour officials and employment agents, there is no mention of the deaths of Kenyans nor of the tribulations of those desperate to leave the Kingdom.
Still the committee recommended the immediate suspension of migration of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia until the Executive established the status of all domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and undertook a census of all Kenyans in Saudi prisons and detention centres with a view to their repatriation to Kenya. It also demanded the re-establishment of labour offices and safe houses in Jeddah and Riyadh, recognition of welfare associations in Saudi Arabia, and a review of the regulation of private employment agencies, including a minimum deposit to ensure swift repatriation of any domestic worker in distress.
Here there seems an implicit acceptance that Kenyans going to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Gulf will be subjected to abuse and, rather than demand action from the governments in the region to stop it, the focus seems to be on mitigation. The aim seems to be enabling Kenyans navigate an abusive system rather than pressuring the Gulf states to end the abuses. Thus the report pushes for finalization of a labour migration policy and a Labour Migration Management Bill mooted in 2021, and notes that “labour migration to key labour destinations has been happening in the absence of formal agreement or MoUs. And where they exist, the agreements fall short of taking care of the interests of workers”. It stresses need to better regulate recruitment processes and recruitment agencies in Kenya, and to streamline pre-departure training for migrating workers as well as systems for their identification and registration on arrival. It also recommends improved linkages between relevant ministries in Kenya and those in destination countries. A September 2022 Report on Systemic Investigation into the Plight of Kenyan Migrant Domestic Workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Commission on Administrative Justice (the Ombudsman) came to similar conclusions.
The Kenya and Saudi Arabia Bilateral Labour Agreement on the recruitment of domestic workers was adopted in January 2016 and was meant to secure the interests of both domestic workers and employers. While Kenya was tasked with ensuring proper documentation and screening of departing workers, Saudi Arabia was to take measures to ensure that the welfare and rights of employers and domestic workers employed in Saudi Arabia are promoted and protected in accordance with the applicable laws, rules and regulations.
The Saudi government was also to ensure implementation of the employment contract, provide 24-hour assistance to the domestic worker; endeavour to facilitate the expeditious settlement of any contractual dispute arising and ensure that workers are permitted to remit savings derived from their wages.
However, going by the number of abuses and deaths, Kenyan domestic workers have not benefited from the agreement, despite the Ministries of Labour of both countries being designated as the implementing agencies.
In its analysis of the level of implementation of the Bilateral Labour Agreement, the Ombudsman found that the two governments have not implemented many of the provisions. For instance, nearly 7 years after the adoption of the Agreement, the Joint Technical Committee has yet to be constituted and as a result, the required annual meetings have not taken place. Moreover, although the Commissioner of Labour told the Ombudsman that a review had been initiated, it has not been completed as required by law.
Within government, ministries have been passing the buck and it is unclear who between the Foreign Affairs and Labour ministries bears overall responsibility for the mess. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has told Parliament that it had in July 2021 written to the Ministry of Labour recommending a temporary ban on the recruitment and export of domestic workers to Saudi Arabia and describing the situation as “dire”. However, the Labour Ministry rejected the advisory, with then Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui saying the local job market could not absorb all new workers. Chelugui’s comments appeared to prioritise the remittances from the Middle East, which at the time stood at KSh120 billion, at the expense of Kenyans’ safety and welfare in the Gulf states. ‘
“We will address the mistreatment of our people because from the statistics we have, about three to four per cent of Kenyans working in those countries are affected. Over 104,000 Kenyans are working in those countries who are doing their jobs happily,” Chelugui said, adding that there are “many social-economic benefits we gather from this migration”.
On the other hand, the advisory from the Foreign Affairs Ministry is an admission of the failure to implement the Diaspora Policy launched in 2014 which recognizes the constitutional imperative for government to protect citizens abroad, and requires it to develop a registry of Kenyans outside the country as well as review the 2007 Labour Institutions Act and gazette rules regulating operations of private employment agencies.
And while the Commissioner of Labour claims to have begun be reviewing the bilateral labour agreements, the senate in November was scheduled to debate a motion demanding the Foreign Ministry conduct the review.
The new Cabinet Secretaries for Labour and Foreign Affairs have committed to ending the problem once and for all. Dr Alfred Mutua chose Saudi Arabia as his first overseas trip as Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary, but again suggested the problems facing Kenyan migrants start back home in Kenya. Following meetings with victims, agents, and Kenyan and Saudi officials, he blamed “massive corruption in the way Kenyans are prepared before they leave to be domestic workers in Saudi Arabia and follow up of Kenyans when they arrive”. According to him, the behaviour of Kenyan “cartels” and agencies was a major concern to everyone, “including the Government of Saudi Arabia”. There was no mention of the seeming lack of prosecutions of Saudi employers who have abused and murdered dozens of Kenyan workers, or compensation for their families. Instead he promised the yet-to-be-formed Joint Technical Committee would start its work on November 17 to fast-track “labour issues”.
The Ombudsman highlighted the creation of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration by an amendment of the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 in a bid to improve the standard of protection and promotion of the welfare of migrant workers, their families and overseas Filipinos in distress. This is not to say that Filipinos do not face challenges in the Middle East; they do and in fact, in January 2018, former President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to ban labour migration to the Middle East.
However, the Filipino government has taken steps to engage directly with the governments in the Gulf region to protect its nationals. In May this year, Philippines Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr lauded the labour reforms in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia that protect Filipinos and encouraged other countries to follow suit. According to Philippines News Agency, the country collaborated with Bahrain in 2018 to provide flexible pathways to migration, leading to the issuance of flexible visas that regularized more than a thousand undocumented Filipinos. The government also invested some US$1.5 million to purchase flexi-visas for over a thousand Filipino migrant workers.
The Sri Lankan government has, for its part, developed a framework for labour migration that is enshrined in the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment Act, 1985. This was done through the creation of the Ministry of Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare to articulate State Policy regarding Sri Lankan citizens employed in other countries.
However, any engagement with the Saudi and other Gulf governments must recognize that the abuse, rape and killing of Kenyan migrant workers is happening within their jurisdiction and largely with their acquiescence. Reforms to systems within Kenya that does nothing to address their failure to provide justice and redress, including domestic reforms to hold perpetrators to account, will not protect Kenyans travelling there. Especially given the desperation of Kenyans to secure jobs, and the legendary corruption of the state, it is likely that there will continue to be incentives for people to circumvent bans and sidestep regulations. Ultimately the problem is not in Kenya but in the Gulf where most of the abuse is allowed to take place within families and behind closed doors.
The impotence of the government was highlighted by former Labour CS Chelugui during his vetting to become Cooperatives minister: “It is an issue that has not satisfied us as a country. We’ve been told some of the victims were (. . .) in breach of the laws of that country, but we cannot confirm these explanations since I have no jurisdiction there,” he told the vetting committee after Deputy House Speaker Gladys Boss questioned why many migrant workers end up dead in Saudi Arabia. Appearing before the Labour Committee in November, his successor, Florence Bore, blamed “insufficient budget, lack of enabling legislation and inadequate labour personnel” for the failure to protect Kenyans working in the Middle East.
For his part, PS Kamau has termed Saudi traditions around housework “very ancient” and suggested that the problem was actually the Kenyan victims’ lack of subservience! The sentiment encapsulates the Kenya government’s reluctance to take on their Saudi counterparts. And Kenyans will continue to pay the price.
This article is part of a series on migration and displacement in and from Africa, co-produced by the Elephant and the Heinrich Boll Foundation’s African Migration Hub, which is housed at its new Horn of Africa Office in Nairobi.
New Wine in Old Bottles: EAC Deploys Regional Force to the DRC
For the first time since its reformation in 1999, the East African Community is sending a regional force to the DRC. But can it win where others have failed?
The M23 rebel group was formed in 2012 as an offspring of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). The group’s reason to wage war against the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo is to protect the Congolese Tutsi and other ethnic communities in North and South Kivu from persecution and discrimination. After 10 years of inactivity, the M23 has once again become a thorn in the flesh of the DRC government—especially in the province of North Kivu—by conquering territories and displacing populations in the process. According to the United Nations, over 200,000 Internally Displaced Persons have been forced to flee since March 2022 when the latest flare-up began. On June 21, the East African Community Heads of State agreed to send the East African Community Joint Regional Force to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help quell the fighting sparked by the re-emergence of the M23 rebel group. This was formalised through a Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) signed on September 11 between DRC President Felix Tshisekedi and the EAC Secretary General Peter Mathuki.
The decision to set up the regional force is the first military deployment the EAC has undertaken since its reformation in 1999. According to the International Crisis Group, the initial plan indicated that the regional force would be made up of between 6,500 and 12,000 soldiers with a mandate to “contain, defeat and eradicate negative forces’’ in the eastern DRC. In addition, Kenya was to take the command role, to be stationed in Goma, North Kivu’s capital. The force would cover the four provinces of Haut-Uélé, Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu and the mandate was to last for an initial six months.
After months of uncertainty over the deployment of the regional force, on November 2nd 2022, Kenya became the first country to send troops to the DRC. This was followed by the announcement by Uganda and Burundi that they would be sending contingents. As the EAC deploys the force, reports on what exactly is the mandate of the regional force have been inconsistent. This being the first deployment by the EAC, its success and exit will rely heavily on the handover of responsibilities to an effective Armed Forces for the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). With incomplete security sector reforms, the FARDC remains as politicised, divided, and ineffective as ever. Considering this reality, an improvement seems unlikely in the short-term while the EAC regional force is in place. Therefore, there is a likelihood that the EAC force may end up extending its stay much longer than the initial guidelines provided. This will not be a surprise; AMISOM’s mandate in Somalia was an initial 6 months to 2 years before handover to the UN.
Historically, the AU and UN military intervention missions have been involved in cyclical internal conflicts; MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and missions in South Sudan, Central Africa Republic, Somalia, and Mali come to mind. No matter how precise and effective the interventions have been, they have never been the magic wand to resolve the underlying internal political challenges. They tend to prolong their stay, a perfect case being MONUSCO which was first deployed in 1999 and is still in the DRC.
There is a likelihood of the troops engaging in illegal smuggling to ‘’pay themselves’’, ending up becoming part of the problem rather than the solution.
As the EAC regional force continues to take shape, there are multiple underlying and interconnected challenges facing eastern DRC today. First, the M23 group is not the only armed group that is fighting in that region. According to the Kivu Security Tracker Report of 2021, more than 120 armed groups operate in the entire eastern DRC— in parts of North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika. Generally, the conflict in the eastern DRC has been characterised by fragmentation among the rebel groups. Many of the groups identified by the KST report, have either been in existence for a long period or are splinter groups of the major groups. This makes it difficult to pinpoint the goals each group aims to achieve. More importantly, these armed groups are all driven by the need for survival which relies on extracting the rich mineral resources in the region and protecting their territories. Recent history has shown that outside intervention has been unsuccessful in addressing the security challenges and, therefore, the EAC regional force already has its work cut out.
Second, President Felix Tshisekedi has not given much needed attention and priority to the conflict in the east since coming to power. President Tshisekedi’s election remains contested, with allegations that it did not pass the democracy threshold test. His opponents believe that he was unduly announced as the winner due to the influence of former President Kabila. This has greatly contributed to his legitimacy being challenged and his influence reduced. As a result, his initial focus was geared towards managing the fledgling coalition he entered into with former President Joseph Kabila which ended up taking up much of his time. This might have distracted him from the much needed security sector reform. According to a January 2022 report by the Governance in Conflict Network, President Tshisekedi’s government has not undertaken a full and comprehensive security sector reform to improve capacity and efficiency.
This slow process of transforming the security sector is perhaps informed by the history that African presidents have with armies. As has been the norm, many African presidents have shown little interest in developing effective armies as they are viewed as potential threats to their hold on power. For instance, the 2013 peace deal signed between M23 and the Congolese authorities involved giving amnesty to the group members and reintegrating some of them into the FARDC. But President Tshisekedi never acted on the deal and according to reports, calls for talks have been ignored by Kinshasa. Faced with a re-election in 2023, is his inaction part of his strategy to get re-elected? Some analysts believe the current push to regionalise the conflict fits into the argument that whipping up nationalist sentiment is aimed at scoring political goals to gain legitimacy across the country. Thus, his recent focus and interest in the eastern DRC conflict may stem from the realisation that the elections are near and he needs an agenda around which to centre a rallying call for his campaign.
Third, the biggest elephant in the room remains the key objective of the EAC regional force being deployed to the eastern DRC. What are the key objectives of the countries that are contributing troops to the regional force? And what will be different from their previous involvement in the DRC? Each EAC member state has in one way or another deployed troops in the DRC. In 2021, President Tshisekedi granted Uganda authority to deploy its troops in Ituri and North Kivu. According to Kampala, the main aim of this deployment was to pursue the Allied Democratic Forces which were responsible for the increased bombings in Uganda. Along the same lines, President Tshisekedi allowed Burundi troops to enter the DRC to fight the RED-Tabara rebel group that is opposed to the Bujumbura government. In 2022, Kenya deployed around 200 soldiers to join MONUSCO under the Quick Reaction Force. Tanzania has its troops under the Force Intervention Brigade which is also part of the MONUSCO peacekeeping force. And finally, Rwanda has long held that the remnants of the 1994 genocide perpetrators, the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), still pose an existential threat to Kigali and thus the need to always intervene.
Recent history has shown that outside intervention has been unsuccessful in addressing the security challenges.
Dr Colin Robinson, a researcher on African militaries, argues that the foreign military interventions being witnessed in the DRC are more for the deeply entangled and vested interests of neighbouring countries than for the citizens of the DRC. Dr Robinson asks, “What do Kenya, Burundi, Uganda, and Rwanda want to achieve?” According to him, part of the agenda is not so much to make the eastern DRC peaceful but is an opportunity for the neighbouring countries to gain better access to the DRC’s rich resources. He contends that the deployment alone will not address the security situation in the eastern DRC unless the FARDC is transformed, saying that, as currently constituted, the FARDC often behaves just like any other splinter rebel group, exploiting the mineral resources and incapable of protecting the DRC’s territorial integrity. However, he also believes that transforming the FARDC to effectively function does not guarantee peace as this might force the neighbouring countries to support rebel groups in order to continue benefitting from exploiting the resources in the DRC.
The EAC member states contributing troops to the regional force will need to harmonise their various interests if they intend to achieve their goals. Otherwise, they will be fighting their separate wars for their interests under the EAC banner. Despite the agreement having Kenya assume the command, the country’s late entry into the DRC makes it difficult to see how Kampala, Bujumbura, Kigali and the FARDC will allow a newcomer to take over influence. Another challenge that has not been factored in is whether command of the force will rotate among the member states or whether it will be drawn from the country contributing the largest number of troops. There is need to address some of these teething problems if the regional force is to achieve its mandate.
Fourth, there have been debates about where the funding for the EAC regional force will come from. The EAC is not known for robust and timely contributions towards the running of its operations. In a recent address to the Kenya Parliament, Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale said that Kenya was to fund its contingent to the tune of KSh4.5 billion (approximately US$37 million) in the first six months. Kenya is the largest economy in the region and can to some extent afford to fund its adventure in the DRC. However, bearing in mind that it has another commitment of troops in Somalia, the country may need additional support from other partners like the EU and the US. There is a high possibility that some troop-contributing countries may struggle to fund their troops in the long run. The risk with this is that there is a likelihood of the troops engaging in illegal smuggling to ‘’pay themselves’’, ending up becoming part of the problem rather than the solution.
On a positive note, the M23 seems to have accepted the calls for a ceasefire from the heads of state mini-summit under the Luanda process. This was followed by the group requesting to speak to the EAC-appointed facilitator, former President Uhuru Kenyatta. This is a timely call that should not be ignored as it will avert the possibility of violent action in addressing the conflict.
The EAC is not known for robust and timely contributions towards the running of its operations.
Finally, the intervention of the regional force should not be an isolated act but should be accompanied by a political process. The continued isolation of the M23 from the peace talks negates the whole principle of inclusivity and if indeed the EAC wants to send a signal that it can justify why the DRC joining the EAC was the best idea, there is a need to be magnanimous and to involve all the belligerent forces in the conflict. The perception that the EAC is taking sides by selecting rebel groups to invite to the peace talks only contributes to the misinformation pervading the eastern DRC that it is simply a Trojan Horse for neighbouring states to exploit the country’s riches.
Overall, the EAC’s decision to set up a regional force to intervene in the eastern DRC is a positive sign that it is asserting its security role and slowly transforming itself from a purely economically-driven integration bloc. There is an emerging regional security complex in the East African region whereby an intractable conflict such as the one witnessed in the eastern DRC can engulf the entire region. However, to achieve the much needed stability, one hopes that the administration in Kinshasa is ready to first galvanise its authority by becoming ready to govern in partnership with different actors in DRC. Second, it must work together with the neighbouring states and other partners to address the proliferation of armed groups in the country. Renewed political agreement among these competing groups and Kinshasa’s willingness to work together with its neighbours could be the game changer.
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