The International Crisis Group (ICG), an organization dedicated to ending conflict around the world, is making a concerted effort to keep members of the US Congress focused on humanitarian tragedies currently unfolding in Africa.
Dr. Francois Grignon, the director of the ICG’s Africa Program, based in Nairobi, recently visited Washington, where he engaged with several US policymakers concerned with Africa.
“The message that I’m trying to put across to them on different conflicts is that it’s more than ever very, very important to remain highly engaged to support conflict resolution and peace-building in Africa. Currently we have flashpoints in the Congo; we have a very difficult situation in Zimbabwe. We also have active conflict and a deterioration of the situation in the Horn of Africa – particularly Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. And it’s very important that the US government remains actively engaged to try to find solutions to these conflicts and prevent deterioration (of the situation) and to remain constructive in this respect,” Grignon told VOA.
Of extreme concern to the ICG is Somalia, where Ethiopian troops have occupied Mogadishu to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Ethiopia invaded Somalia late last year, with US backing, to oust a group called the Union of Islamic Courts, which the US and Ethiopia had accused of being linked with the al-Qaeda terror group. Ethiopia and the TFG are currently engaged in fighting insurgents, but human rights groups say many innocent civilians have been killed in the conflict.
“The situation in Somalia has only been deteriorating. Now, Mogadishu is almost inaccessible to humanitarian workers; the security environment is really bad and you cannot say that there is any positive political outcome at this stage from the Ethiopian intervention and the rule of the TFG,” Grignon said.
He added that a “destabilized” Somalia was a danger to the world.
“It’s absolutely necessary to find a political way out of this situation, to have a political dialogue with some sections of the former regime, of the Courts, to rebuild a peace process that’s going to deliver some stability, disarmament and lead, possibly, to elections…. There cannot be peace to keep by the African Union if there is no peace process going on, if there is no agreement to implement.”
Grignon said it was essential that all feuding parties in Somalia participated in negotiations that resulted in disarmament and power sharing and the establishment of a credible government that would organize elections.
He remained convinced that Ethiopia’s presence in Somalia created a climate that made it possible for “certain factions” to exploit the situation, and drive the country further into chaos.
“Ethiopia’s position right now is very difficult. Militarily, it’s had some victories. But politically, it’s at risk. There must be another solution other than occupation, which is only leading to an escalation of conflict…. Short-term military victories are not the answer to the conflict. They’re not the answer also to securing their (Ethiopia’s) interests in the region,” Grignon maintained.
He was also pessimistic about a solution to the crisis in Darfur, where thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced since 2003 when rebel groups in the western Sudan region began an uprising against the Khartoum government of President Omar al-Bashir.
Grignon accused the al-Bashir administration of failing to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in 2005, which ended more than two decades of war between Khartoum and rebels in southern Sudan.
“Darfur cannot be viewed in isolation from the CPA, which provides the general framework for the Sudan peace process. Darfur is very complementary. If the CPA is sick, Darfur cannot make progress; the situation cannot improve. Why? Because the conflict in Sudan is between the center and its periphery, and the mother of the conflicts in Sudan is between the north and the south. If the north and the south are not working together to consolidate the peace process, to implement what they have agreed, there cannot be any credible political solution to Darfur,” Grignon emphasized.
The north-south peace pact created a semi-autonomous southern authority, a national coalition government, separate north and south armies and sharing of oil wealth – with the option of full independence for the south in a referendum in 2011. But the southern Sudanese authorities say Khartoum is refusing to share oil income and has reneged on a border agreement in the oil-rich province of Abyei, where tensions are increasing.
“When the Darfuri rebels don’t see any progress in the peace process in the south, when they see that the agreements signed by Khartoum are not implemented, why would they enter into more negotiations with Khartoum regarding their own conflict?” Grignon asked.
He was also convinced that, despite the many agreements that had been made, Khartoum would continue to make use of “bureaucracy” to stall on allowing thousands of United Nations and AU peacekeepers into Darfur.
“The UN and the AU have to speedily find the troops necessary for the deployment in Darfur to keep their promises. In this respect, there are delays. Things are not happening the way they should. The international community remains poorly coordinated, and sometimes divided, and the necessary concessions that need to be made by the big players are not being made. Unless the big countries work together, and actually meet their end of the bargain and fulfill their commitments, we are not going to have any progress on the ground and are going to play into the hands of Khartoum, in particular,” Grignon said.
He said the ICG was also extremely concerned about violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“We have a situation in the North Kivu region. There’s a lot of tension between the warring parties with a very, very high humanitarian cost. So far, we have about 200,000 IDP’s (internally displaced people) there.”
Some analysts have warned of a new regional conflagration around the DRC, but Grignon did not believe the situation at the moment was of such dire proportion.
“We are not on the verge of a new regional war. The situation in North Kivu today is not like in 1996 or in 1998. But we have a very acute crisis in North Kivu between the government and an insurgent force and you need to structure a political process that’s going to answer this conflict.”
Grignon said the present tragedy in the DRC was a “legacy” of previous wars there.
“Now the issues that have remained unresolved are coming back, because reconciliation and a political settlement between the different communities in North Kivu was not settled, and neither was the finalization of disarmament and demobilization of the Rwandan Hutu rebels. Those issues need to be addressed, urgently, by the governments involved – and not through more military actions, but through dialogue and political pressure and through regional cooperation. The keys to this resolution of conflict are in Kinshasa, and also in Rwanda, and in Uganda.”
Grignon added that the ICG also remained focused on Zimbabwe.
“The economic meltdown doesn’t seem to have any end, and more and more Zimbabweans are forced to leave the country and seek refuge in South Africa. Politically, the South African mediation to try to find a compromise between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) to organize free and fair and credible elections next year is ongoing. It’s a slow process; it’s a difficult process. But it’s the only chance we have right now for reform, and therefore it should be supported.”
But Grignon warned that the time was approaching when the international community – and especially Zimbabwe’s neighbors – would have to take a stand to prevent a greater tragedy from unfolding in southern Africa.
“Our position is that the time has come to close ranks, to see beyond the (South Africa President Thabo) Mbeki mediation, to see genuine change in the country. If this mediation fails, if in a couple of months we see that ZANU-PF is preparing for a totally flawed, rigged-in-advance election process, that will be the time to increase the pressure on the government (of President Robert Mugabe), and for the (Southern African) region to take its responsibility and to admit that they were not able to create the necessary environment for credible elections, and to refuse to endorse the process being prepared by the Zimbabwe government.”