Africa Week in Review – December 13, 2013

Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around Africa over the last week:

  • President Barack Obama returned to Washington D.C. on Wednesday after attending the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, where he delivered a eulogy for the Nobel Peace Prize winner and first black South African president. Media reports described President Obama’s speech as electrifying and bringing the audience to a respectful silence. President Obama’s address compared the civil and human rights struggles in South Africa and the United States, and asserted that globally, the fight for a just world is not over:

The questions we face today — how to promote equality and justice; how to uphold freedom and human rights; how to end conflict and sectarian war — these things do not have easy answers… Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done… South Africa shows we can change, that we can choose a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.

  • The White House announced on Tuesday that the U.S. intends to provide the French-supported African Union (AU) force in Central African Republic (CAR) with $60 million worth of defense equipment. The memorandum specifically refers to “assistance to France, the African Union, the Republic of the Congo, Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, and other countries that contribute forces to the African Union-led International Support Mission.” France also called on the European Union to assist with the mission. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed U.S. AFRICOM, in coordination with the French, to begin airlifts to transport Burundi peacekeeping troops into the country.  The airlift, using two U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft, started on Thursday. President Obama also released a direct message to the people of Central African Republic, calling for civilian efforts for peace and reconciliation as well as a government push for accountability. The African Union announced it intends to increase its peacekeeping deployment from 3,500 to 5,000 troops.
  • France hosted a two-day African security summit, a gathering of security ministers and leaders from 53 African countries. The summit rekindled the idea of forming an African rapid reaction force, which could deploy to conflict zones across the continent. French President François Hollande made the case that “Africa should be able to get together to intervene and react swiftly to crises. Therefore, a rapid reaction force should take place in the coming months.” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan voiced support for such a force, and floated the possibility that the force could help Nigeria in its struggle against Boko Haram. France announced it could train 20,000 soldiers a year, and provide “equipment, logistical support and coordination for the force.” President Hollande also called on the European Union to support such efforts. The French media expressed skepticism on the success rate of Western military training. 

Quick Hits from across Africa:

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the M23 rebel movement signed a peace agreement today in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. The agreement was negotiated last month with Ugandan mediation, but to date the DRC objected to its status as an ‘accord.’ Involved parties referred to the agreement as a declaration now, a term with less legal weight. The U.S. welcomed the declaration and urged all parties to implement it. Furthermore, the State Department praised Uganda’s involvement in the negotiations and security cooperation between the United States and Ugandan security forces.  
  • Before starting an offensive, the United Nations peacekeeping forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, known by the acronym MONUSCO, issued a warning to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) to disarm and surrender. The FDLR is a Hutu militia operating in the East Congo. The media reported that “large numbers” of FDLR rebels heeded the call and surrendered. MONUSCO started targeted attacks on Tuesday.
  • The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) released a brief on the Nigerian military’s conduct in the fight against Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist movement in the North. The brief warns that the Nigerian military’s human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings, are radicalizing Boko Haram further, leading to rising death toll in Nigeria. Additionally, IRIN published an in-depth look at how government-backed civilian vigilante groups, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), aggravate the circle of violence.
  • The Overseas Development Institute together with the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies released a report called “Al-Shabaab engagement with aid agencies,” which researched humanitarian aid in Somalia during the 2011 famine, when al-Shabaab controlled the country. The report outlines that humanitarian aid organizations paid bribes to al-Shabaab, in exchange for access, and often acceded to al-Shabaab’s demands to distribute the aid itself.
  • The New York Police Department (NYPD), which supported Kenyan investigations of the Westgate Mall terror attack, released its conclusions about the attack. Disputing earlier findings of Kenyan authorities, the NYPD estimated only four shooters conducted the attack, and that the attackers may have escaped. Simultaneously, a Kenyan parliamentary committee investigating the attacks published findings that corrupt Kenyan police and border guards may have helped the al-Shabaab attackers enter the country.
  • In response to increasing “security threats” in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a new command within the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). The Nairobi Metropolitan Command is tasked with tackling the “current threat posture in the country emerging from terrorism, drug trafficking, proliferation of small arms, crime among others that tends to flourish among highly urbanized areas like Nairobi.” 
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report, called “‘Leave Everything to God’: Accountability for Inter-Communal Violence in Plateau and Kaduna States, Nigeria,” in which it documents mass killings in central Nigeria. HRW criticizes the government for a lack of accountability, with only few reported crimes leading to prosecutions. Despite recurring episodes of communal violence, the Nigerian government has not worked to address the drivers of conflict, HRW maintains.
  • French forces in Mali launched an offensive against al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in the North of the country, killing 19 suspected militants.
  • The United Nations Security Council released a statement strongly condemning Guinea Bissau for “repeated military interferences in civilian affairs,” and calling for a return to constitutional order and elections.
  • President Obama announced a presidential delegation set to travel to Kenya to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield will join the delegation.
  • Liberian media reports that U.S. Ambassador Deborah Malac called the Liberian police director, Chris Massaquoi to discuss the National Police. Ambassador Malac is reported to have assured the director of “continuous support to these two riot units of the police,” and expressed interest in extending U.S. support to the Professional Standards Division (PSD), the unit tasked with police accountability.
  • A United Nations expert panel on arms smuggling implicated senior Liberian leadership in secretly smuggling small arms into the country, including from the United States. 

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