13 March 2009

Africa: Continent's Trouble Rises in the East


Lagos — The sun rises in the East, heralding a new dawn. But in Africa , her contemporary wars and conflicts are mainly in the East or arise from there.

Virtually all the countries in the eastern tip of the continent are in conflict.

The horn of Africa, the beautiful part that flows into the Mediterranean has seen bloody internal and external conflicts. Ethiopia for instance, periodically represses the opposition in bloody street and electoral battles. Externally it has waged brutal border wars with its former province, Eriteria which is now an independent country.

The Ethiopian army has just returned home after long bloody battles with Islamic insurgents that saw it race through Somalia . They sacked the Islamic Courts but were unable to break them or provide a secured capital for the Somali interim government.

Eriteria has fought border wars with its two neighbours; Ethiopia and Djibouti . The Djibouti-Eriteria conflict is over a small hill running through their common border. As expected, the dispute is fuelled by external powers who want to control the lucrative water ways, trade and politics in the area.

Eriteria is also known to provide some support for the Islamic Forces in Somalia not because it has religious affinities but in order to shore up some influence in the region and check mate what it considers Ethiopia' s expansionist ambitions.

Somalia is a basket case. For eighteen years it has had no central government and has been run in bits and pieces by clan groups and war lords. The frequent interruption of aid distribution led the United States to send its Delta Force into the country.

Unfortunately, the American Forces changed focus; from protecting the aid distribution channel to hunting Farah Aideed one of the rebels. The hunt had disastrous consequences which saw the Americans withdraw in disgrace.

To re-establish a central government and check anarchy, a coalition; The Islamic Courts, seized most of the country before Ethiopian forces dislodged them.

Over sixteen thousand civilians have been killed in two years of resumed fighting, while another Islamist group, the al Shabaab has arisen attacking AU Forces and threatening to attack Kenya .

Kenya has been one of the most peaceful and prosperous East African countries. But its last general elections which pitched President Mwai Kibaki against Raila Odinga threatened to tear the country apart. Good sense prevailed, a unity government was patched which saw Kibaki remain as President.

He however, shares power with Odinga who occupies a newly created office of Prime Minister.

The most peaceful country in the region has been Tanzania . Under the leadership of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the country witnessed very few violent incidents. This included an attempted military coup in the early 1960s which saw the dissolution of the army, and border wars with Idi Amin's Uganda which led to the ouster of the hated dictator.

Uganda, has been one of the most violent. Internally, a succession of coups and counter coups, two disastrous reigns by Milton Obote and the tragedy of Idi Amin's misrule culminated in a long drawn guerrilla war.

This led to the rise of the Museveni regime. The later's triumph saw the birth of a multiplicity of guerrilla movements which has kept the country on the boil for over twenty five years. The most destructive of these groups, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is led by Joseph Kony.

After devastating Northern Uganda, the LRA fanned across neighbouring Southern Sudan where it wrought havoc before finding more fertile grounds in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) LRA activities late last year led to 150,000 Congolese civilians becoming either internally displaced or being forced into exile.

In December 2008, a joint military offensive by the Ugandan, Southern Sudanese and Congolese armies attacked the rebels. Subsequently the LRA broke into smaller groups to terrorise civilian populations in the DRC.

The DRC is also under the siege of Rwandan rebels called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) These are the remnants of the Hutu Force which fifteen years ago massacred 850,000 mainly Tutsi Rwandese.

They had poured into the DRC with the advance of the Rwanda Patriotic Front. Now reduced to about 6,000 fighters, the FDLR which occupied two provinces in eastern Kivu was put to flight in January 2009 when 3,000 Rwandan troops crossed into the DRC and mounted a joint operation with the DRC army. In return for Congo 's support, both armies attacked Tutsi rebels in the DRC led by General Laurent Kunda.

The latter fled into Rwanda and was captured by that country's security forces. With the departure of the Rwandan soldiers, another joint military operation is planned by the DRC, this time, jointly with the 17,000 United Nations Force known as NONUC.

Some of the longest and bloodiest wars in the continent have been fought in the East African nation of Sudan . From the 1960s, it has witnessed three bloody civil wars. The first two were fought in the south where the mainly Christian people fought the primarily muslim leaders in the north to a stand still.

Years of negotiations produced a semi autonomous Southern Sudan led by the late John Garang with capital in Juba . There is also a provision for a referendum which would determine whether or not the oil rich south will become a fully independent country.

The third civil war which began six years ago is still raging in the Darfur region. It has witnessed massacres and the displacement of huge sections of the populace. This led the international Criminal Court (ICC) issuing a warrant of arrest against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The charges against him include genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur .

While most of humanity is striving for better life, many in East Africa are trying just to stay alive. In East Africa like most parts of the continent, the challenges are how to promote dialogue and build consensus.

Michael Chukwuemeka Osuji is a student of Geography and Regional Planning, Olabisi Onabanjo University , Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State , Nigeria .

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