Africa Week in Review — October 11, 2013

  • The U.S. Department of Defense conducted two special operations raids in Africa:  one in Libya, which captured Abu Anas al-Libi, an al Qaeda operative wanted in connection with linked 1988 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The second raid conducted by the U.S. Navy SEALS was designed to capture a Kenyan national, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, a member of al-Shabab suspected to have planned the September 21st  Westgate Mall attack. The U.S. attack in Somalia was unsuccessful: commanders on the ground aborted it after being met with heavy gunfire. Commanders pointed to “imperfect intelligence,” saying that a heavy civilian presence prevented them from responding with more force.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama defended the two raids, making the direct connection between the intended targets and security on the U.S. homeland: “There is a difference between us going after terrorists who are plotting directly to do damage to the United States and us getting involved in wars.” Secretary Kerry announced the U.S. intends to continue such U.S. Special Operations: “members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations literally can run, but they can’t hide.” Simultaneously, Senator John McCain raised questions about the intelligence failure, the consequences this failure had on U.S. policy, as well as the legal rational for the raid during this week’s hearing.
  • The two raids increased media attention on U.S. Special Operations in Africa: MSNBC, PBS, Washington Post, Reuters, Christian Science Monitor, The Atlantic, Aljazeera, CNN, VOA  wrote about the United States’ intent to continue special operations in Africa. The Atlantic called it a “Pivot to Africa” and MSNBC’s Alex Wagner posed the question whether Africa is the new frontier for U.S. Counterterrorism. The Washington Post ran an opinion piece examining tensions between U.S. policy to foster democracy in East Africa, and their counter-terrorism policies.


  • The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ African Affairs Subcommittee held a hearing on 8 October 2013 to discuss the challenges and advancements in state-building efforts in Somalia. The hearing, called “Security And Governance In Somalia: Consolidating Gains, Confronting Challenges, And Charting The Path Forward,” had both a public and a private sector panel. Witnesses agreed on the central role AMISOM has played in driving al-Shabaab from Somali cities, and stressed that there is a need for greater U.S. support for regional peacekeepers.  Further, witnesses were unanimous in their belief that al-Shabaab remains a potent terrorist threat in the region and to U.S. interests.  An even stronger Somali central government is necessary, the government panel argued, to continue the offensive against al-Shabaab. Senator Christopher Andrew Coons (D-DE) announced his intention to introduce two pieces of legislation, one reaffirming its support for Kenya’s counterterrorism efforts, and another calling on the Obama administration to present a Somalia strategy to Congress.


  • General David Rodriguez, Commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), gave an interview to All Africa about his view of Africom’s role on the continent. He emphasized a whole of government response in cohort with U.S. Department of State (DOS) in order to tackle governance and security challenges in Africa, including supporting DOS efforts to strengthen peacekeeping capabilities on the continent. He addressed AFRICOM’s response to challenges in the Horn of Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa, Mali and Nigeria. Rodrigez also stated that AFRICOM is using DOD disaster relief funds to address long-term health challenges, such as HIV/ AIDS prevention work, calling it “one of the main ways we make inroads with partners.”

  • Rwanda condemned the United States’ decision to withhold military assistance on the grounds that the Rwandan government supports the M23 rebels, which use child solders. Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo deflected U.S. assertions as “ludicrous.” Simultaneously, UN Security Council delegation conducted an official visit to Rwanda, and visited the ongoing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program targeting former Hutu rebels, including child soldiers. The UN commended Rwanda for demobilizing its own child soldiers, but criticized it for recruiting children to join M23 rebels to fight in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Quick Hits from Across Africa

  • U.N. Special Representative for Somalia Nick Kay called for reinforcements of the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia, AMISOM, stressing that al-Shabab still controls large parts of the country.


  • Malian Tuareg separatist rebels announced they would rejoin the peace process, after the Malian government released 23 insurgents.  In a sign of continued insecurity, suspected radical militants exploded two bridges in the Eastern part of Mali.


  • Deutsche Welle published an expose linking the West’s unwillingness to raise human rights concerns in Chad with Chad’s strong military performance, and President’s Deby’s ability to portray his country as an ally in the war on terror.


  • The Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) used their data regarding violent incidents in Nigeria, monitored as part of the Nigeria Security Tracker, to examine whether the Nigerian military response to Boko Haram was stabilizing the country. The data shows that while the number of violent attacks in Nigeria dropped, their lethality spiked. CFR’s conclusion: “The security-centric approach that President Goodluck Jonathan is using to suppress the insurrection in the North is not working.”


  • Public protests persisted in Sudan, with the middle class increasingly joining. The government continues its brutal suppression: Amnesty International puts the current death toll 210 protesters. Sudan’s President al-Bashir vilified protesters as “traitors.” A Huffington Post opinion piece criticized the U.S. for failing to address the violence during Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with his counterpart last week. 


  • UN Security Council ambassadors announced during a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo that UN peacekeepers would expand their focus to other rebel groups, namely the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Islamist group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), after having achieved some gains against the M23 rebel group. 


  • The UN Security Council approved a resolution calling for a small African Union peacekeeping force to stabilize the Central African Republic (CAR). CAR has been rocked by conflict since the coup in March, with also induced a humanitarian crisis. The resolution also demands CAR start a transition towards democracy, and threatens sanctions against conflict instigators.


  • The New York Times documented al-Shabab’s increasingly successful recruiting amongst native Kenyans, and links this trend to sectarian tensions in the country.

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