Africa Week in Review – December 20th

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

  • The same week the U.S. military started airlifting French and African Union peacekeeping troops to the Central African Republic, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, landed in the capital Bangui this Thursday unannounced. Her visit demonstrated the United States’ concern for the country’s ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis. It was particularly striking given the United States “has no apparent economic or strategic interests” in CAR, the New York Times noted.

The ambassador used her visit to call for more engagement:

Somalia taught us what can happen in a failed state, and Rwanda showed us what could occur in a deeply divided one. The people of the Central African Republic are in profound danger and we all have a responsibility to help them move away from the abyss…urgent action is required to save lives.

  • The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing this week called “Responding To The Humanitarian, Security and Governance Crisis in the Central Africa Republic.” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield (PDF) and U.S. Agency for International Development’s Assistant Administrator for Africa Earl Gast (PDF) testified on the government panel, outlining the U.S. government’s concerns regarding the humanitarian situation. Assistant Administrator Gast referred to the developments as the “worst crisis in the country’s history.” On the nongovernmental panel, the following testified: Doctors Without Borders, focusing on the humanitarian crisis (PDF); International Crisis Group, outlining the security situation and potential steps to mitigate the crisis (PDF); and the Congressional Research Service, outlining the history and complexity of the current crisis (PDF).
  • The White House released a fact sheet detailing the United States’ response to the crisis in the Central African Republic. It announced new, unexpected security assistance. Following the March 2013 coup, the United States initially ceased all non-humanitarian assistance to Central African Republic and at least temporarily suspended U.S. Special Operations in the country. U.S. security assistance will amount to $101 million, and will include:
    • Airlift for Burundi provided by the Department of Defense.
    • Up to $60 million in defense services for French forces and defense articles and services for the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) troop contributors under the drawdown authority.
    • $40 million in Peacekeeping Operations funding to support MISCA, which will include:
      • Provision of non-lethal equipment, to include armored personnel carriers, 4x4s, troop carriers, logistics trucks, fuel tankers, recovery vehicles, ambulances, personal protective equipment, communications, headquarters assistance, and materials for construction of defensive fortifications.
      • Provision of pre-deployment training for rotating units, both through the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program and U.S. Africa Command.
  • After an alleged attempted coup in South Sudan on Saturday December 14, heavy fighting broke out in the capital and spread to rural areas, including the ethnically divided Jonglei state. The South Sudanese government accused former vice-president Riek Machar, recently dismissed during a government overhaul, of instigating the violence. Machar denies the charges, and instead accused the president of “inciting tribal and ethnic violence.”

U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Donald Booth acknowledged the murky political situation, and warned against continued violence:

The situation remains unclear as to what exactly sparked the violence… We are not confirming a coup attempt yet… We’ve been reaching out to numerous parties in Juba as well as others in the region to put together a picture of what exactly happened…the new country cannot afford a slide back into violence.

U.S. President Barack Obama called on South Sudanese leadership to recommit to peace and unity and warned that the country stands “at the precipice.” The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning, ordering non-essential U.S. employees to leave the country, and urged all parties to seek a “peaceful resolution.” The United States is sending 45 U.S. Armed Forces personnel tasked with “protecting U.S. citizens and property.” 

Quick hits across Africa:

  • U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield visited Somalia on Saturday December 14th and met with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Topics discussed included security issues, the recent political appointment of a new Prime Minister, humanitarian challenges and human rights. 
  • The U.S. Department of State designated the Algerian al-Mulathamun Battalion a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), stating considers the group “the greatest near-term threat to U.S. and Western interests in the Sahel.”
  • French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced France would start using unarmed U.S.-made drones by the end of the year to assist in their fight against al Qaeda in Mali.
  • USAID administrator Rajiv Shah visited the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of U.S. efforts to support development in conflict-affected areas.
  • France seeks more support, including more financial assistance, from the European Union for the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic. French troops are the only European force with boots on the ground, though multiple countries have provided other support. Germany, among others, expressed hesitation about greater involvement.
  • The United Nations delivered a report to the Security Council, which evidences that Rwanda continues to support M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) despite international pressure. The report also documents that the DRC’s army carried out several the human rights abuses, including sexual violence.
  • After a USAID program designed to help countries improve their response to pandemics expired last year, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) launched a broader version. AFRICOM’s program focuses on pandemics, but also natural and manmade disasters. According to the Department of Defense, disaster response in Africa “likely would involve military forces that provide support to civil authorities.”
  • The United Nations expressed deep concern about cocaine trafficking in West Africa, estimating the trade to value at $1.2 billion a year. U.S. Ambassador, Alternate Representative of the United States for Special Political Affairs in the United Nations, Jeffrey DeLaurentis addressed the Security Council saying that the U.S. “committed significant resources to address drug trafficking and its effects in the region and will launch new programs in Mali and Chad in the coming year.”
  • Somalia’s defense minister announced that the government plans to defeat the terrorist organization al-Shabaab within the next year. 
  • Burundi took over command of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). To learn more about U.S. training of Burundi’s peacekeeping forces, read our blog

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