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Uganda’s entry into the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to combat the terrorist Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) diverts attention away from equally pressing issues at home.

By Michelle Gavin, Guest columnist and blogger

In late October and again in November, Uganda was the target of terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo and linked to the self-proclaimed Islamic State. In response, Uganda has deployed a significant number of troops to eastern Congo. The counterterrorism operation is characterized by uncertain timelines and metrics of success. None of this bodes well for Uganda or the region.

Of course, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his government cannot remain passive in the face of suicide bombings outside of parliament. Security is a prerequisite for achieving all of Uganda’s development goals, and in a region with a rich and recent history of destabilizing cross-border insurgencies and devastating consequences for civilians, simply hoping for the best is a bad bet. But an effective response to the ADF has eluded Uganda in the past. The country has an ugly history of worsening conditions in eastern Congo, prompting Congolese Nobel Prize winner Denis Mukwege to describe Ugandan troops as “arsonist-firefighters.”

Moreover, the broader political context in Uganda in the wake of January’s spectacularly unjust elections lends itself to security overreach. President Museveni and his allies have long placed their monopoly on the use of force at the heart of their political legitimacy and, in doing so, conflated threats to their political survival with threats to the state. Conditions that encourage an even heavier hand are likely to lead to even more political violence and impunity.

Those same conditions also distract from Uganda’s real and urgent needs. As one of the youngest countries in the world—over 46 percent of the population is under the age of fifteen—Uganda has massive health, education, and job-creation challenges in front of it. Afrobarometer polling from earlier this year indicates [PDF] that Ugandans want the government to focus on providing better healthcare, infrastructure, and education; only 6 percent of respondents called for crime and security to be the priority. But Ugandan schools have been closed for eighty-three weeks due to COVID-19, the longest such closure in the world, disadvantaging young people in their quest for opportunity. A security distraction, and another excuse to empower unaccountable security elites, is highly unlikely to serve the interests of Uganda’s youth.

*Michelle Gavin tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa. This article first appeared in CFR.

 

Africa

Ethiopia Conflict Dynamics Shift as New U.S. Envoy Takes Over

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Recent signs out of Ethiopia are encouraging, but major issues standing in the way of a sustainable peace remain unresolved.


By Michelle Gavin, Guest columnist and blogger

News coming out of Addis Ababa suggests that the conflict in Ethiopia is entering a new phase. For over a year, momentum seemed to be forever driving toward worsening violence between the federal government, its allies, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), as well as a deepening rift between the Ethiopian government and international partners including the United States. But now the TPLF has retreated back to Tigray, and federal ground forces have declined to advance on the region. Ethiopian authorities have freed prominent opposition leaders from prison—including members of the TPLF and Oromo groups that have been at odds with the government—framing the pardons and amnesty as a step toward unity and reconciliation. Late last month, lawmakers approved the establishment of a national dialogue commission that will seek political solutions to the multiple fractures in Ethiopian society. While the dialogue as envisioned will not include armed opponents of the government, it could perhaps create a pathway toward more inclusive and consequential talks.

But not all the news is good. Humanitarian conditions in Tigray are as dire as ever, in large part because the Ethiopian government continues to impede access to the region. Ongoing aerial attacks on civilian targets are exacerbating the loss and suffering, killing Ethiopians and refugees and prompting aid organizations to suspend operations because they cannot safely do their work. This weekend the TPLF claimed that Eritrean forces were continuing to fight in Tigray—a claim that, if true, would render the restraint of federal forces far less meaningful. Meanwhile, many Ethiopians who were swept up in a wave of dubious arrests targeting human rights activists, journalists, and ethnic Tigrayan Ethiopians—whose only crime seemed to be their ethnicity—are still detained.

The Biden administration is assessing these developments and trying to capitalize on the positive trends as it transitions from Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman, whose resignation was announced last week, to his successor, David Satterfield. It will be important to resist the temptation of wishful thinking in this moment and to ensure that a desire for a reset of the bilateral relationship does not lead to a selective reading of the latest developments. There are positive signs, but doubts over the sincerity of the government’s desire for peace persist, as do real questions about the sustainability of steps toward peace. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political base may have been unified in its animus toward the TPLF, but without an urgent threat from a common enemy, competing and sometimes contradictory interests will be hard to satisfy. Some of the militant Amhara nationalists that Abiy relied on over the past year already view the latest amnesties as a betrayal. Eritrea will continue to pursue its own agenda, which does not entail standing down while Ethiopians resolve their political differences peacefully and emerge a stronger and more just society. Accountability for atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict remains elusive.

Over the past year Abiy and his supporters have used the history of U.S.-Ethiopia relations as a cudgel, pointing to Washington’s tendency to overlook internal repression and abuse during the years of TPLF dominance to question U.S. motives. It would be ironic if American desires to end this difficult period led to repeating the same mistakes. Of course, the United States wants a productive relationship with Ethiopia—especially a just, peaceful Ethiopia that models a successful heterogeneous society, champions democratic norms, and supports African institutions. But good relations with the government in Addis Ababa are not worth much if the country is tearing itself apart, simmering with grievances that explode into violence, or practicing and exporting the kind of brutal authoritarian governance that characterizes Eritrea. The United States should take care to consider the totality of the picture in Ethiopia today, remembering that it is the ultimate course of that influential country, not rapport with any one leader, that matters most.

*Michelle Gavin tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa. This article first appeared in CFR.

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Africa

Gold Mine Collapses, Kills Over 30 In Sudan

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At least 31 miners were killed and eight missing in Sudan on Tuesday when a rudimentary gold mine collapsed, a government official said.

The disaster occurred near Nuhud, a town about 500 kilometres (310 miles) west of Khartoum, said Khaled Dahwa, the head of the state-run Mineral Resources Company in West Kordofan.

“Thirty-one traditional miners were killed because of a mine collapsing,” he told AFP, adding one person survived and eight others were still missing.

Another official at the company said four miners were killed at the same mine in January.

“Authorities at the time shut down the mine and installed security but a couple of months ago they left,” he said.

Artisanal gold mining is a dangerous profession in Sudan largely due to ramshackle infrastructure.

It flourished around a decade ago in various parts of country, with people digging the ground using excavators in hopes of unearthing the precious metal.

About two million artisanal miners produce about 80 percent of the country’s annual gold production of around 80 tonnes, according to official figures.

Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries, has recently suffered runaway inflation and embarked on tough economic reforms, including slashing subsidies on petrol and diesel and launching a managed currency float.

It is also reeling from political turbulence in the wake of a coup-led military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on October 25.

 

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Deadly bombing at restaurant packed for Christmas in Congo

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Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo say at least six people have died in a suicide bomb attack on a crowded restaurant in the eastern city of Beni.

Police prevented the bomber from entering the building, but he blew himself up at the entrance killing himself and five other people.

Another 13 people were injured.

The officials blamed Saturday’s attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a militant group said to be linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS).

So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

More than 30 people were celebrating Christmas at the In Box restaurant when the bomb went off, two witnesses told AFP news agency.

Children and local officials were reportedly in the restaurant at the time.

“I was sitting there,” local radio presenter Nicolas Ekila told AFP. “There was a motorbike parked there. Suddenly the motorbike took off, then there was a deafening noise.”

After the explosion the military officer responsible for the state of emergency in the country’s east told residents to return home for their own safety.

There have been frequent clashes in Beni between the army and Islamists in recent weeks.

In November, Congolese and Ugandan forces began a joint operation against the ADF in an attempt to end a series of brutal attacks.

Authorities in Uganda say the group is behind a series of recent attacks in the country, including in the capital Kampala.

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Map

The militant group was formed in the 1990s by Ugandans disgruntled with the government’s treatment of Muslims, but it was routed from western Uganda and its remnants fled across the border to DR Congo.

It established itself in the eastern DR Congo and has been blamed for thousands of civilian killings there over the past decade, including in attacks on Christians.

In March the US put the ADF on its list of terror groups linked to IS. For its part, IS says the ADF is an affiliate.

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