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About Gérard Prunier

Gérard Prunier is research professor at the University of Paris, and senior fellow of the Atlantic Council. He is the author of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst, 1998), Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (C Hurst, revised edition, 2007), and From Genocide to Continental War: The Congolese Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (C Hurst, 2006)

Articles by Gérard Prunier

This week's editor

NSS, editor

Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to 50.50.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

South Sudan’s civil war: towards a progressive analysis

The world's newest state exploded into violence at the end of 2013. The reasons are varied and defy the common, simplistic portrait of a "tribal war", says Gérard Prunier.

Somalia: beyond the quagmire

The election of the moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as the new president of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) creates a window of opportunity for the shattered east African country. But what happened in Djibouti on 31 January 2009 must be followed by constructive and creative political action if it is to yield its potential benefits.

The chances of this now hang in the balance, as Sheikh Sharif's return to Mogadishu on 23 February was followed by an eruption of violence involving government forces, African Union peacekeepers and  militia groups. In this difficult political moment, who are the key players now confronting each other in Somalia, and what outcomes might - and should - emerge?

The Transitional Federal Government

The TFG has since 2004 had been the incarnation of some kind of international legitimacy for what is left of Somalia's central polity, could very well be the major casualty of the ongoing process. Since the power-sharing arrangement established in October 2008 - brokered between the "old" TFG and the moderate wing of the Islamist Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS-S), led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed - the recycled TFG had been in a state of deep crisis.

The Ethiopian government did its best to support what had been its main ally and champion in Somalia since 2004-05, but it was ultimately defeated by the inordinate obstinacy of the TFG president, Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed. Abdullahi did not want the new alliance with ARS-S; he did not want any arrangement with the Hawiye traditional elders who wielded so much influence in Mogadishu; and in the end he did not even want his own prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein "Ade".Gérard Prunier is research professor at the University of Paris. He is the author of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst, 1998), Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (C Hurst, revised edition, 2007), and From Genocide to Continental War: The ‘Congolese' Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (C Hurst, 2006)

What did Yusuf want? At heart, his own Majerteen yes-men and nothing else - not quite the broadening agenda everybody (including Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi and the international community) wanted him to embrace. Addis Ababa gave up and left him to his own devices. Yusuf, completely isolated, finally resigned on 29 December 2008; he eventually left Somalia on 18 January 2009 to take up residence in Yemen.

This left prime minister Nur "Ade" holding the fort of an increasingly crumbling phantom administration. The withdrawal of the Ethiopian army in December 2008-January 2009 meant that the TFG's area of control in and around Mogadishu shrank, and did its influence in central Somalia. Most of its army deserted - the United Nations said 10,000 out of 15,000 (though it was more 1,500 out of 4,000 if the real troop numbers rather than the salary rolls are examined); and large swathes of the country soon fell into the hands of what the media had come to call the al-Shabab (youth, with the connotation of militant) - for want of a better word.

The ensuing election for the presidency saw sixteen candidates standing - including prime minister Nur Hassan Hussein, ARS-S Sheikh Sharif, former prime minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, one of Siad Barre's sons, and several warlords (Mohamed Qanyare Afrah and Mohamed Said Hersi "Morgan" among them). Sheikh Sharif finally emerged as president-elect.

But this result also represents a huge problem in terms of Somali clan politics - for Sheikh Sharif is a Hawiye from the Abgal sub-clan, which leaves the Darood clan family (one so vast that around 65%-70% of Somalis belong to it) outside power. The al-Shabab tend to recruit well among Darood, saying - rightly- that both the TFG and the moderate Islamist camp are Hawiye preserves. It is not possible to run the country on the basis of TFG alone, and Sheikh Sharif now has to build a broader alliance. On what basis and with whom, nobody yet knows. If no governing alliance emerges, the TFG might very well simply wither away, in fact if not in name.Also by Gérard Prunier in openDemocracy:

"Darfur's Sudan problem" (15 September 2006)

"The DR Congo's political opportunity" (14 March 2007)

"Chad, the CAR and Darfur: dynamics of conflict" (18 April 2007)

"Chad's tragedy" (7 September 2007)

"Sudan between war and peace" (1 November 2007)"Khartoum's calculated fever" (5 December 2007)

"Kenya: roots of crisis" (7 January 2008)

"Chad: between Sudan's blitzkrieg and Darfur's war" (19 February 2008)

"Kenya: histories of hidden war" (29 February 2008)

"Sudan in a fix" (26 June 2008)

"Sudan's Omar al-Bashir: a useful war criminal" (15 October 2008)

"The eastern DR Congo: dynamics of conflict" (17 November 2008)

"'The Kenya we want'" (3 February 2009)

The Islamist constellation

One of the many problems of today's Somalia is that almost everybody is an "Islamist" of some kind. There are for example:

  • The so-called al-Shabab, the direct descendants of the radical branch of the Islamic Courts Union that was forcibly removed by the Ethiopian occupation of December 2006. Their leader, Aden Hashi "Ayro", was killed in a United States air-strike in May 2008. Al-Shabab (youth) is an elastic word - during the war against the TFG army and its Ethiopian allies, everybody became an al-Shabab member. Some al-Shabab were in fact clan-based militias operating under the Islamist banner; others were debris of a number of former warlord militias yet more were linked to the radical branch of the ARS holed up in Asmara under the leadership of Hassan Dawer Aweys (ARS-A); and remnants were ARS-S

  • As the al-Shabab rolled on, they conquered ground and often had to let it go almost immediately because they did not have enough men to garrison the towns they had just occupied. They left behind nominal "al-Shabab" militias that in fact did not obey them. From a clan-basedpoint of view the al-Shabab hard core was Hawiye. But as it grew it quickly differentiated itself according to clan - with for example Mukhtar Robow ("Abu Mansur", who is a Rahanweyn of the Lissan sub-clan) recruiting his own men from his own clan, calling them the "Mujahiddin Youth Movement" (MYM). The Harti of Ras Kamboni created their own movement called Anole

  • The ARS-S of Sheikh Sharif tries to use the al-Shabab without being itself swallowed by them. It has built an alliance with other moderate Islamist groups under the revived name of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC)

  • Hassan Dawer Aweys and his ARS-A are opposed to the new president and sponsor some elements of the al-Shabab. He runs them inasmuch as his Eritrean friends give him enough money and weapons to keep them in line; but the control is far from tight.

  • The old Ahl as-Sunna wa'l Jama'a ("the people of the law and the community") - the middle-of-the-road Islamist movement created in 1992 by the late Mohamed Farah Aydid when he was fighting the Americans - still exists. It is deeply opposed to the al-Shabab, and is now being armed by the departed Ethiopians who see it as a counterfoil to the radicals. Ahl as-Sunna is a potential ally for Sheikh Sharif

  • There are also all the freelancing Islamists who at times call themselves al-Shabab or at times invent fancy names for themselves. Their allegiances are vague and tend to be of a more clan-based nature.

The various components of the Islamist movement have taken to fighting each other as they come to occupy more ground. In late January 2009, clashes multiplied around Dusa Mareeb between the al-Shabab hard core and Ahl as-Sunna wa'l Jama'a. Each denounced the other as kufar (infidels) and each has proclaimed jihad (holy war) against the enemy. When the "al-Shabab" occupied the TFG capital of Baidoa on 27 January, it was in fact a group of MYM under Mukhtar Robow who walked in unopposed because their fellow Rahanweyn welcomed them. They discreetly omitted calling in their comrades from other clans.

The fighting has extended to Mogadishu, where at least twenty-one people were killed and dozens wounded on 24 February 2009 in clashes which involved al-Shabab and a new self-declared militant formation, the Party of Islam.

Yet all this is far from adding up to the picture of a "talibanised" Somalia. It should not be forgotten that the Taliban are Pashtun, members of Afghanistan's majority ethnic group. The al-Shabab are a minority because in Somalia everybody is a minority nationally; majorities - like the Issaq in Somaliland or the Majerteen in Puntland - exist only locally. This does not mean that some kind of a radical Islamist government cannot emerge. But it means that such a government, if it sticks to a radical agenda which was not that of the more mixed and moderate UIC of 2006, will never control the whole country. A more moderate Islamic movement perhaps could, on the basis of an inter-clan alliance.

The international component

The direct international involvement in Somalia is for the time being limited to the 1,600 troops of the Ugandan army and the 1,700 troops of the Burundian army. Both operate under an African Union (AU) mandate within a force called the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom). President Yoweri Museveni has promised an added 700 men "soon". But he has also requested the African Union to pay him $14m for the "depreciation" suffered by his military equipment in Somalia.

Amisom troops have a very low level of military efficiency, and cannot do much either to protect the civilians or to bolster any kind of a political solution. At times, they seem to have a hard time protecting themselves.

In December 2008, when it became obvious that the Ethiopian army was going to withdraw, the Americans made a belated effort to convince the United Nations to put together some kind of a military mission for Somalia. Ban Ki-moon asked but everybody refused - even the Turks who had initially seemed interested. The general verdict was "too risky".

The Amisom troops are now isolated, scared, and increasingly drawn in to violent confrontations. On 2 February, after an improvised explosive device was detonated against one of their convoys, they lost all control and opened fire on the crowd: thirty-nine civilians were killed and twice that number wounded. The fact that the UN representative, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, tried to deny the massacre did not help.

The al-Shabab and their sympathisers - which had in any case welcomed the new president's election by declaring war on him - lost no time in accusing Sheikh Sharif of having betrayed his people and allied himself with troops who were behaving no better than the former Ethiopian army. The word jihad came up and Sheikh Sharif now has to face a new and broader alliance of fundamentalists, spurred on by Amisom's murderous blunder. The killing of eleven Burundian soldiers from Amisom in Mogadishu on 22 February 2009 is an index of the scale of his task.

Among openDemocracy's other articles about Somalia:

Peter Hurst, "Somaliland's democratic lesson" (4 October 2005)

Harun Hassan, "Somalia's new Islamic leadership" (12 June 2006)

Harun Hassan, "Somalia slides into war" (3 November 2006)

Jawahir Adam, "Somaliland: a window to the future" (21 November 2006)

Harun Hassan, "Somalia: the way forward" (13 February 2007)

Harun Hassan, "Somalia: Mogadishu's ghost days" (5 April 2007)

Edward Denison, "The Horn of Africa: a bitter anniversary" (12 April 2007)

Tom Porteous, "Somalia: a failing counter-terrorism strategy" (13 May 2007)

Anna Husarska, "Water problems in Somalia: a photo-essay" (9 October 2007)

Georg-Sebastian Holzer, "Somalia: piracy and politics" (24 November 2008)

Georg-Sebastian Holzer, "Somalia: ends and beginnings" (18 December 2008)

The humanitarian debacle

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on 24 February 2009 of a humanitarian crisis in the central region of Galgadud. The situation there is a stark example of a general trend. Today in Somalia, 3.25m people need humanitarian assistance. 170,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of the insurgency in 2007 and there are now over 300,000 internally-displaced persons (IDPs) living in makeshift camps strung along the road between the capital and Afgooye. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya -  opened in 1991 in the chaos that accompanied the fall of Siad Barre (who had ruled the country since 1969) - now hosts 230,000 refugees, 60,000 of whom have arrived since January 2008. The levels of malnutrition are shocking and diseases are rampant.

The World Food Programme and its NGO allies can barely manage, for a number of reasons: transport is horrendously difficult and dangerous. radical Islamists target humanitarian workers who are regularly killed or taken hostage, money is very tight for what looks like a lost cause (see Jeffrey Gettleman, "The Most Dangerous Place in the World", Foreign Policy, March-April 2009).

The "other" Somalia: Puntland 

Puntland has fared surprisingly well in the midst of all this turmoil. On 8 January the Puntland parliament elected a new president of the quasi-state, a 63-year-old banker called Abdirahman Mohamed "Faroole". He is the first non-military president of Puntland since the quasi-state was created and quite a pragmatist. He is also Ise Mahmood by sub-clan (in Puntland 96% of the population is Majerteeen; so what  matters is the sub-clan) - a welcome change from the previous Osman Mahmood hegemony over the administration.

In contrast to Somaliland, Puntland has never formally proclaimed its independence, though "Faroole" has refused to take part in the Djibouti TFG electoral process, claiming - quite rightly - that this is both confused and tending towards a Hawiye closed-shop system. He says he would be ready to discuss a streamlined national administration provided the process would be more open, which for Puntland means a bigger Majerteen input.

In domestic terms he has promised to fight the massive inflation of the local Somali shilling and to act decisively against the notorious pirates who sail out of the Puntland port of Eyl. If this promise is kept it could win him the sympathy of the international community; though some observers accuse him actually of being linked with pirate interests. In any case this is a delicate balancing-act since the pirates now have a lot of money and weapons, and are in a position to defy the authority of the quasi-state (see Roger Middleton, Piracy in Somalia: Threatening Global Trade, Feeding Local Wars [Chatham House, October 2008]).

The new president and his cabinet (whose members took the oath of office in Djibouti on 22 February) might also want to curb the smuggling of refugees into Yemen, a highly dangerous traffic which has killed 949 people out of about 50,000 transportees during 2008. Smugglers often get rid of their human cargo near the Yemeni coast by tossing their passengers into the shark-infested waters in order to avoid being caught by Yemeni coastguards.

The "other" Somalia: Somaliland

Somaliland is now more hopeful than ever of gaining international recognition, as it counts a number of supporters in the Barack Obama administration. But this outcome is still quite far from being sure. In seeking to confirm its hallowed democratic credentials Somaliland is now preparing for a global election (presidential + legislative) where the ruling party Udub is likely to win - but only by the narrowest margin, as in 2004 where President Daher Riyale Kahin won by 0.01% of the vote.

Kulmiye, the main opposition party, is likely to be a strong contender with the other opposition party Ucid coming third. The paradox is that the opposition cannot agree on a unity candidate because the two opposition parties together would be likely to poll more votes than the ruling Udub but will lose due to their division.

The quasi-state is under threat from Islamist destabilisation efforts. The fact that Somaliland is quite solid means that all the terrorist groups which have been operating come from either the south or even farther afield. In January 2009 the police arrested a group of several Somalo-Americans from Minnesota who were in possession of ten shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles apparently supplied by Eritrea to the southern Somalia Islamist groups. Terrorist attacks cannot be ruled out during the election period, given the fact that many of the southern groups are strong supporters of the "greater Somalia" ideal and therefore hate "breakaway" Somaliland, whom Islamist leader Hassan Dawer Aweys always calls in his official documents (in an echo of al-Qaida propaganda)  "the state supported by the Jews and the Americans".

Somaliland is still engaged in a low-intensity conflict with Puntland over control of the Sool and Sanaag regions where Puntland-based oil companies have been operating (although no oil has been found, it is quite likely that there is some). The registration of voters for the Somaliland elections in the two provinces has also proved to be a highly contentious exercise; this led the election commission on 23 February 2009 to postpone the vote scheduled for 29 March to an as-yet unspecified date.  

The way ahead 

In many ways Somalia seems to be going back to square one, i.e. to the situation that existed before the disastrous CIA-sponsored coup of early 2006 followed by the Islamist takeover, and then in December of that year the Ethiopian military occupation. Clan-based militias are again springing up everywhere, camouflaged under a thin veneer of the now fashionable Islamic fundamentalism. The suicide-bombing in Mogadishu on 24 February that killed fifteen civilians is in this respect an awful warning of what may develop in the absence of political progress.

The main problem of the surviving TFG is not going to be controlling the al-Shabab whose radicalism - though destructive - is largely self-defeating. It is much more going to be the age-old problem of herding together fissiparous clanic militias elements intent on the local control of the limited cash-making opportunities: the harbours, the airports, the qat traffic, the refugee traffic, piracy and the looting of humanitarian aid.

The TFG does not have a tax base and cannot acquire one without achieving the physical control of at least some of these cash sources. But the international community is unlikely to be both willing and able to provide it, along with the necessary means to achieve this primary state objective; the aid it offers will remain largely humanitarian.

In addition a short-sighted view of security will push the international community to insist on a continued or increased Amisom presence. This would be a mistake. Amisom does not have - and will not acquire - the military capacity to make a strategic difference. But it acts as an irritant and its support for Sheikh Sharif and the TFG is a deadly embrace: while incapable of really bolstering the government militarily, it kills civilians in its clumsy "counter-insurgency" attempts, thereby providing "nationalist" arguments to the Islamist radicals who accuse the new president of betrayal.

It is urgent to withdraw the Amisom troops from Somalia before their counterproductive efforts destroy the very thing they are supposed to foster: the birth of a transitional national-unity government working towards a realistic peace that can endure. The people of Somalia - resilient, creative, intelligent, resourceful, long-suffering - deserve no less.

"The Kenya we want"

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya faced a moment of public embarrassment on 12 December 2009 when he was unable to complete his independence-day speech because of heckling from the crowd. But this was far from an opposition-organised ruckus. Some weeks earlier, his political competitor (and the prime minister) Raila Odinga could hardly speak to a gathering of his supporters who countered his slogan of chungwa! ("orange", denoting his party) with shouts of unga! (maize-flour, i.e. "we are hungry") .

Kenya, right now - thirteen months after the post-election bloodletting of January 2008 - is in a state of quiet fury. Unlike a year ago, it is not being expressed with machetes and guns. The tribal and partisan aspects of the anger have shrunk; for the first time it is national in character. It comes from the very depths of civil society, and it is using all the resources of the law.

The title of a letter to the editor in the Nation (published on 16 November 2008) captured it perfectly: "We must take our country back from the politicians". All politicians.

What has happened in Kenya?

Also in openDemocracy on Kenya's crisis after the December 2007 elections:

Peter Kimani, "A past of power more than tribe in Kenya's turmoil" (2 January 2008)

Michael Holman, "Kenya: chaos and responsibility" (3 January 2008)

Gérard Prunier, "Kenya: roots of crisis" (7 January 2008)

Roger Southall, "South African lessons for Kenya" (8 January 2008)

Wanyama Masinde, "Kenya's trauma, and how to end it" (9 January 2008)

John Lonsdale, "Ethnicity, tribe, and state in Kenya" (17 January 2008)

Angelique Haugerud, "Kenya: spaces of hope" (23 January 2008)

Anna Husarska, "Kenya's displaced people: a photo-essay" (5 February 2008)

A legal timebomb

The violence which followed the 27 December 2007 election saw (according to official) figures 1,133 people killed, over 300,000 displaced, and tens of thousands of houses burned down (the true figure of the dead was probably closer to 1,500). By 28 February 2008, amid continuing disagreement over who had won the elections, President Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) agreed to a power-sharing deal with its main rival, Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

The deal was sponsored by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general who was now acting as an envoy of the African Union. It included the creation of a new position of prime minister, to be filled by Odinga. This made it look like a return to the bad old days of ruling-elite political fixes which ended with a bloated pork-barrel cabinet designed to have as many mouths as possible at the trough.

But there was a small afterthought, if one largely overlooked at the time: the creation (at Kofi Annan's insistence) of a commission of inquiry on the "events" , to be chaired by Judge Philip Waki. Since Kenya is notorious for commissions of inquiry that lead nowhere, this should have been the first step towards the usual cover-up. But not this time. Judge Waki - having worked with a former police commissioner in New Zealand, Gavin McFadyen; a human-rights expert from the DR Congo, Pascal Kambale; and the Kenyan lawyers David Majanja and George Keboro - delivered his 529-page report to President Kibaki on 15 October 2008.

It caused a major surprise. Both the ODM and the PNU had expected that the "other" side would be blamed for the post-electoral violence - and the two parties were right. For the Waki report - to the great surprise (and satisfaction) of the majority of Kenyans - did indeed condemn them both.

Among the trenchant conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry into Post-election Violence were these:

* Most of the killing was not spontaneous, but the result of systematic violence by politically-organised tribal militias: Kalenjin killing Kikuyu settlers (PNU voters) in the Rift valley, and Kikuyu carrying out revenge killings in the Nairobi slums (the latter mostly targeting Luos - Odinga is Luo and the ODM was seen as a Luo political machine)

* The National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) had given advance warnings of likely trouble, which the government had disregarded

* The police responded to violence through disproportionate means and also perpetrated killings along tribal lines

* The organisers of this mayhem were politicians from both sides; their names were not made public but were given by Judge Waki both to President Kibaki and to Kofi Annan

This was what most sensible people had known all along. But now it was out in the open, in the form of a legally-binding document of relentless urgency (see Xan Rice, "Philip Waki's ticking bombshell", Inside Story, 25 November 2008). Under the commission's terms of reference, the Kenyan authorities either had to set up a special court within sixty days to try the offenders or else see Kofi Annan give the names and the report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which would then start proceedings against the accused parties for crimes against humanity (see Wanyama Masinde, "Kenya's trauma, and how to end it", 9 January 2008).

The explosion was all the louder because the Waki report appeared a few days after the publication of another report by Judge Johann Kriegler which had charged the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) with:

* omitting 30% of eligible voters, but keeping on the electoral list 1.2 million dead people

* failing to prevent vote-buying, ballot box-stuffing and voter intimidation

* making massive mistakes in vote-counting, at the expense of both sides

* not being able to say who in the end had won the election.

The chairman of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), Okong'o Omogeni, wrote on 16 November: "Our true character as a nation will be seen in how we handle the Waki Report".

The first reactions were - to the surprise of many in Kenya - remarkably mature. The PNU and the ODM alike shrieked that the report was "superficial" and "bogus" , but the political divide was not partisan; many politicians in these parties supported or criticised the report regardless of party affiliation. The PNU justice minister Martha Karua praised the report which many in her party condemned, while the ODM agriculture minister William Ruto rejected the document his leader Raila Odinga supported.

A kind of healthy panic set in, blurring both party lines and tribal affiliations. Odinga declared: "Rift Valley leaders should desist from receding into their ethnic cocoons on matters of national concerns...The time has come for Kenyans to face negative ethnicity". He was alluding to the fact that Ruto, a Kipsigi / Kalenjin had supported violations of legality in favouring Kalenjin settlement in the Mua forest, thereby creating an ecological disaster. Ruto's probable involvement in the creation of militias at the time of the election was very likely linked to securing the ethnic environment in the area for his fellow Kipsigi (see "Kenya: roots of crisis, 7 January 2008).

Ruto was Odinga's main ally in ODM, and for the leader to berate him was a dangerous gamble for the opposition leader. But Odinga had (probably correctly) gauged the feeling of public exasperation with the politicians, particularly MPs - many of whom (of both parties) rejected the Waki report. In the ODM, for example, the parliamentary group refused to accept the report and the national executive committee of the party had to override them. This at a time when the overpaid MPs ($11,000 per month, plus a variety of perks) were ferociously fighting to refuse the taxation of their incomes.

The public retched. A letter to the editor in the Nation said: "I am wondering how the people who killed our children, wives, husbands, brothers and sisters have the audacity to continue ruling us - and even refuse to pay tax." A huge political gap had opened between the professional political class, particularly parliamentarians, and civil society.

Gérard Prunier is research professor at the University of Paris. He is the author of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst, 1998), Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (C Hurst, revised edition, 2007), and From Genocide to Continental War: The ‘Congolese' Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (C Hurst, 2006)

Also by Gérard Prunier in openDemocracy:

"Darfur's Sudan problem" (15 September 2006)

"The DR Congo's political opportunity" (14 March 2007)

"Chad, the CAR and Darfur: dynamics of conflict" (18 April 2007)

"Chad's tragedy" (7 September 2007)

"Sudan between war and peace" (1 November 2007)

"Khartoum's calculated fever" (5 December 2007)

"Kenya: roots of crisis" (7 January 2008)

"Chad: between Sudan's blitzkrieg and Darfur's war" (19 February 2008)

"Kenya: histories of hidden war" (29 February 2008)

"Sudan in a fix" (26 June 2008)"Sudan's Omar al-Bashir: a useful war criminal" (15 October 2008)

"The eastern DR Congo: dynamics of conflict" (17 November 2008)

A hope from scandal

In the wake of this feeling of revulsion at the men who had tried to protect their cushy jobs by cold-bloodedly inciting ethnic militias to murderous violence, came a slew of scandals - ranging from simply irritating to potentially catastrophic:

* The many commissions of inquiry set up by the Mwai Kibaki administration over the last five years were revealed to have been mostly useless - and the more expensive, the less efficient. The Goldenberg commission of inquiry into the huge financial scam of the 1990s had cost $7.1m to produce no result; while the Waki commission, with its enormous potential for reform, had cost a mere $70,000

* The security situation at the border with Somalia in Mandera kept deteriorating and the army seemed unable to contain it, despite increased military expenditure

* There were revelations about the random-killings committed by the army in reducing the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF, an ethnic guerrilla group which had joined in the post-electoral mayhem for reasons of its own) during 2007-08. The LSK declared : "A law should be urgently established to guide military involvement in civil-society conflicts"

* In January 2009, George Okungu - the managing director of the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) - was sacked after 126.4 million liters of fuel (worth $98.7m at current market prices) had "disappeared" from KPC storage, siphoned off by the Triton Corporation petrol-distribution company. The Triton managing director fled to India in December 2008 after borrowing a total of $1.36 bn from the Kenya Commercial Bank

* The acting roads minister, Chris Obure, went public about his ministry's need for $1bn to build 64,000 km of roads; the ministry budgets had evaporated while all construction opportunities had been missed. "As a nation we spent a lot of resources in resolving the southern Sudan conflict, but now we can't even benefit from peace because we lack direct road access". With the present economic crunch, this had become a matter of national urgency, he said

* The food situation in Kenya has deteriorated, largely because most of the displaced persons who were forced to flee in January 2008 had been peasants working in the highly productive areas of the Rift valley and Nyanza provinces. A year after the violence, 150,000 were still displaced and agricultural production had declined by 4.7% - enough to upset the country's precarious food balance, especially for the poor.

Overall food prices increased by 35% during 2008; that of the staple diet, ugali (maize-flour), rose by 150%. Even worse was the chain of corruption when the government distributed 400,000 bags of maize bought with tax money to four millers; they in turn charged $1m to the National Produce and Cereal Board (NCPB) to grind it, while keeping the byproduct of milling and selling it as animal feed for their own benefit; distributors who bought the flour in 2 kg bags for Shs 1,750 ($25) resold it for Shs 2,650 ($38) a bag.

To top it all, the government asked the international community for $438m in emergency food-aid on 12 January 2009 - while declaring that at least 10 million Kenyans were at risk.

The press seethed with indignation as it reported these developments. The outrage over the maize scandal was reflected in the decision on 26 January to dissolve the NCPB. But the government has also responded by pushing through parliament a new press law which bypassed the independent media council and created a new "communications commission"; this was staffed with persons handpicked by the ministry of information, who were granted the right to control the contents of articles and to close radio and TV stations "in the case of an emergency".

Kenyan MPs, already furious at the press for denouncing their refusal to pay tax, were only too happy to give the repressive press law bipartisan approval. The Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai denounced the new law as a violation of freedom of speech, while journalists who demonstrated against it were beaten up. It is in this loaded atmosphere that the government announced the establishment of the special tribunal for Kenya to deal with the Waki report.

A new battle-line

The draft law for the new tribunal (which has yet to be finalised), prepared by a justice ministry now in the hands of Martha Karua, is drastic:

* There are to be two chambers - a trial chamber presided over by a Kenyan chairman and with two foreign judges (from a list suggested by Kofi Annan); and a similarly composed appeal chamber

* The public prosecutor will be a foreign judge, with a Kenyan deputy

* There is to be a right of compensation for the victims of the violence

* To avoid legal wrangling, the tribunal is to be supreme, i.e. legally placed above any other Kenyan jurisdiction .

Even more important, the tribunal's mandate is to be extended to examine all cases of politically-related civil violence since 1992. This clearly indicates that the phenomenon of "spontaneous" ethnic violence is being considered in its entirety over the last four elections, thus setting a clear challenge to the culture of political manipulation and impunity which had dominated Kenya over the years (see "Kenya: histories of hidden war", 29 February 2008)

It is significant that feeble attempts to criticise the recourse to foreign judges in the name of "national sovereignty" fell completely flat. There has, similarly, been no attempt to denounce the possible ICC recourse as a "foreign intrusion". The tribunal has to be operational by 1 March 2009 - or Kofi Annan will transmit the whole file to the International Criminal Court.

The government, looking for allies in response, decided to recall parliament from its recess - though it has so far failed to pass the legislation required to establish the tribunal. The European Union's Kenya representative announced that the disbursement of $500m of European aid would be contingent upon a serious implementation of the Waki report's conclusions. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) - set up in October 2008, and invested with great hopes as well as subject to withering critique - has been given an even broader mandate than the tribunal; it has the right to analyse and discuss all events of violence and human-rights abuses between October 1963 (the moment of independence) and February 2008 (see John Lonsdale, "Ethnicity, tribe, and state in Kenya", 17 January 2008).

At the same time, pressure has started to build to avoid the possibility of a cover-up. Civil-society organisations have organised a large meeting under the banner of "The Kenya We Want", to be held on 2-4 February 2009; they invited an impressive slate of world-renowned international speakers on human rights and civil liberties (see Angelique Haugerud, "Kenya: spaces of hope", 23 January 2008).

An end to violence

Kenya is now ready to bare its soul. What will the results be? Many doomsayers predict a repeat of the abuses of January 2008, while civil-society advocates insist that to bury the signs of corruption and violent political manipulation would likely trigger another very dangerous social crisis. There are serious fears that the coalition cabinet formed on 13 April 2008 (which implemented the power-sharing deal of 28 February) might not survive the process - and nobody knows what kind of new political dispensation would emerge in that event.

The civil-liberties climate has received a powerful boost since the election as United States president of Barack Obama, for whom the Kenyans feel a special affinity - all the more so since the government clumsily tried to prevent the Obama family from talking to the media. On 11 December 2009, the under-secretary in the ministry of heritage, Osman Said, tried to justify the communication ban by saying: "We are doing this because we want to ensure a better flow of information". This is exactly the kind of cant which the Kenyan public is sickened by.

Kenyans now stand at a crossroads. It is to be regretted that their remarkable exercise in self-examination and legal redress has received only a tiny fraction of the attention the January 2008 violence received. In its own way Kenya too is trying to say: "yes, we can!"

The eastern DR Congo: dynamics of conflict

Since August 2008 the situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has grown progressively worse in ways that seem hard to understand. An overview of the events and processes that led to the resurgence of conflict, however, can explain what is happening and what kind of intervention can contribute to resolving it.

Gérard Prunier is research professor at the University of Paris. He is the author of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst, 1998), Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (C Hurst, revised edition, 2007), and From Genocide to Continental War: The ‘Congolese' Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (C Hurst, 2006)

Also by Gérard Prunier in openDemocracy:

"Darfur's Sudan problem" (15 September 2006)

"The DR Congo's political opportunity" (14 March 2007)

"Chad, the CAR and Darfur: dynamics of conflict" (18 April 2007)

"Chad's tragedy" (7 September 2007)

"Sudan between war and peace" (1 November 2007)

"Khartoum's calculated fever" (5 December 2007)

"Kenya: roots of crisis" (7 January 2008)

"Chad: between Sudan's blitzkrieg and Darfur's war" (19 February 2008)

"Kenya: histories of hidden war" (29 February 2008)

"Sudan in a fix" (26 June 2008)

"Sudan's Omar al-Bashir: a useful war criminal" (15 October 2008)

The DR Congo, devastated by years of civil and foreign wars between 1996 and 2003, had managed to sign a peace agreement, disarm most of the combatants, navigate the dangers of a transition period (2003-06), and finally (in July-October 2006) hold successful democratic elections. But the eastern part of the country had never healed. Why?

The heart of the answer is that the eastern problem had existed before the war, was made worse by the war and was not addressed by the peace agreement. The eastern Congo is a dense ethnic mix where Banyarwanda (people of Rwandese ethnic origin) make up a large segment of the population, at least in North Kivu where they represent about 40% of the total (in South Kivu, the Rwandese-speaking Banyamulenge are only about 4%). The high population densities (reaching almost 300 people / square km around Goma) are an important factor in the development of strong tensions around landholding. These tensions were worsened by two factors:

* during the colonial era the Belgians brought thousands of Banyarwanda from Rwanda to work in the Kivus. But they were salaried workers on Belgian plantations and did not own land. When the Belgians left these people wound up as landless peasants since the local tribes (Bahunde, Banyanga, Banande) were not ready to make room for them

* after the 1960-65 civil war which followed the Belgians' departure, Joseph-Désiré Mobutu emerged as the state's authoritarian ruler. His personal secretary Barthélémy Bisengimana was a Rwandese Tutsi who favoured his fellow tribesmen and helped them acquire land illegally. Since the Banyamulenge in South Kivu had fought in the civil war on Mobutu's side, the Rwandophone population became globally identified with Mobutu, a political perception which increased tension with the generally anti-Mobutu eastern tribes.

Rwanda and DRC: context of conflict

By the early 1990s when Zaire (as it had been known since 1971, on Mobutu's orders) began to sink into a catastrophic economic crisis, the land tensions in the east escalated into a localised ethno-civil war. By 1992 there was full-scale fighting in North Kivu, particularly in Masisi, with thousands of casualties. Since neighbouring Rwanda had been in a state of civil war between Tutsi and Hutu since October 1990, local Congolese Banyarwanda crossed the border to enlist in the conflict. One of them was the future General Laurent Nkunda who joined the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), now in power in Kigali.

Then in June 1994, following the Rwandese genocide, hundreds of thousands of Rwandese Hutu peasants crossed the border in the other direction, fleeing the victorious RPF. They were led by soldiers and politicians of the defeated génocidaire regime who were hoping to get Mobutu's support to keep fighting the RPF. Their presence pushed the agrarian tensions to a pitch because they allied themselves with the anti-Tutsi camp in the local civil strife.

Their eventual defeat in November 1996 when the RPF army invaded Zaire did not mark an end to the problems. The invaders also entered the fray, but this time in support of the Tutsi elements. Laurent Nkunda had come back with them and he quickly became one of the leaders of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD) , the "rebel" Congolese movement which was generally perceived as a puppet of the invading Rwandese army (in the 2006 presidential elections, its leader Azarias Ruberwa who was a candidate, got 2% of the vote). During the course of the second civil war (1998-2002), Nkunda and his men fought on the Rwandese side against the Congolese government. All sides committed atrocities as the conflict unfolded, but those committed by the RCD soldiers were particularly hated because they were committed as allies and auxiliaries of a foreign invading army.

The FDLR: a web of influence

Meanwhile a rump of the former Hutu armed refugee groups who had come in 1994 had managed to implant themselves in the area under the name Front Démocratique pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR). In theory they were the enemies of the invading Tutsi-dominated Rwandese army. But in practice it was much more complex:

* in order to finance themselves, they began mining some the non-ferrous metals North Kivu and South Kivu are replete with. But commercialisation was a problem. Some FDLR elements started to work with their RPF "enemies", selling them the columbium-tantalite, the gold or the niobium ore they were mining

* in addition, the RPF had recruited a good number of Hutu soldiers into its ranks, including former génocidaires who had been languishing in jail since 1994. Those started to deal with their FDLR "enemies".

Thus when Rwanda "evacuated" the Kivus in 2002 after the Sun City (South Africa) peace agreement, it maintained a strong presence in the region through demobilised soldiers, through local Tutsi (and even Hutu) who had become their commercial agents, through militiamen and local administrators who, being underpaid, were open to Rwandese financial blandishments. Rwandese businessmen kept exploiting the local mines with the help of locally-recruited artesanal creuseurs (diggers) and flying out the ore in small planes operating from illegal landing strips.

Also in openDemocracy about the DR Congo and the wider region:

Nicola Dahrendorf, "Mirror images in the Congo: sexual violence and conflict" (23 October 2005)

Caspar Henderson, "Rwanda, Sudan and beyond: lessons from Africa" (6 April 2004)

Tristan McConnell, "The Democratic Republic of Congo: living up to its name?" (27 July 2006)

Tristan McConnell, "DR Congo's dangerous run-off" (23 August 2006)

Andrew Wallis, "Rwandan rifts in La Francafrique" (14 December 2006)

David Mugnier, "North Kivu: how to end a war" (3 December 2007)

Gerard J DeGroot, "Rwanda: the colour of hope" (30 April 2008)

By then the problem was essentially politico-economic: how long could the unnatural FDLR/RPF de facto alliance centred on mining be kept while the political aims of the two partners were fundamentally opposed? In December 2004, The Rwandan president Paul Kagame's then special envoy for the Great Lakes, Richard Sezibera (Rwanda's health minister since 28 October 2008), declared to an interviewer from the International Crisis Group: "The FDLR no longer constitutes an immediate threat to our government but they are a security problem to people's lives, property and to our economic growth".

The FDLR, which still has a fighting strength of perhaps 6,000 men, is in a very ambiguous position because:

* through its genocidal image, it still retains the capacity to trigger strong reactions in Kigali

* at the same time, it has long worked as a partner of some business circles in Kigali

* locally, it is deeply implanted in the Kivus and it has become largely "congolised", including through marriages with local women

* it is still used, off and on, by anti-RPF elements in Kinshasa who continue to smart at the results of the 1998-2003 war - and to dream of making Rwanda pay for the approximately 3.8 million casualties it has caused in the Congo during those years

* nevertheless, the FDLR continues to behave with extreme violence locally, pillaging and raping at the slightest provocation. This is a deliberate move to keep their nuisance capacity visible and avoid being taken for granted by their Kinshasa "allies".

The Laurent Nkunda factor

All this helps explain why General Laurent Nkunda is perhaps the most dangerous segment of the armed groups in the east. To calling Nkunda "a rogue general" as the media does repeatedly is no help in understanding who or what he is. After 1998 he became one of the main RCD officers and he played a key role in the Kisangani massacre of 2002. He was charged with crimes against humanity in September 2005 by the DR Congo government, which casused his to be reluctant to come to Kinshasa when he was appointed to the new army since he feared a trap.

In May-June 2004 he tried to take over Bukavu in a vain attempt to derail the transition to the elections. Then he laid low for a couple of years, still refusing to dissolve his Tutsi forces into the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC), the new "national" army. In November 2006 he rebelled again and attacked Goma, probably intending to hold it for ransom and to get some kind of pardon-cum-position for him and his men at the end of the adventure.

After losing about 300 of his fighters to the fire of the Pakistani battalion of the United Nations Mission in DR Congo (Monuc), he went to the negotiation table and accepted the integration of his men into the FARDC. But in a further switch, on 30 December 2006 he created the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP), a political armed militia which he tried to present as a political tool to "clean up Congolese politics".

At first this did not represent much of a threat. But the problem grew when the Kinshasa government, far from capitalising on the success the July-October 2006 elections represented, seemed to go to sleep after that. For the past two years the Congolese government has looked like a beached whale, incapable of moving in spite of its bulk. This created an opportunity which Nkunda has exploited (see David Mugnier, "How to end a war", 3 December 2007).

Under the fold of his demagogic populist CNDP banner, he started to recruit all sorts of malcontents, mostly Tutsi of course but also Hutu Banyarwanda from Masisi and even a lot of flotsam and jetsam from various tribes who began to drift towards him as the pressure from Monuc and its demobilisation programmes from other regions liberated a lot of former fighters into military unemployment.

Nkunda went further, even across the borders, and started to recruit young unemployed Tutsi men in both Rwanda and Burundi, offering them spurious hopes of non-existent civilian jobs. Some of them deserted and surrendered to Monuc, but his movement grew. By his own account Nkunda (several of whose close allies, including chief-of-staff Bosco Ntaganda, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court) now has around 12,000 men, probably an exaggerated figure. But his men are good, much better than the poorly-disciplined FARDC. The worst aspect of his manoeuvring is that he has kicked the FDLR back into action and reopened all the sores of the east - such as when they massacred a whole village in cold blood at Kanyola in South Kivu in May 2007, having accused the villagers of working with the CNDP.

Why do we see such zigzagging on Nkunda's part? Mostly because there is not a single coherent policy in Kigali to either support or disown him. It depends on the fluctuation of the political atmosphere there (see "The DR Congo's political opportunity", 14 March 2007). Since the well-organised electoral "victories" of the RPF (Paul Kagame got 96% of the vote in the 2003 presidential election and his party got forty-two of the fifty-three contested seats in the September 2008 parliamentary "election", with the "opposition" immediately deciding to support the government), there is no Hutu opposition worth the name. Just mentioning such a term is labeled "divisionism" and can get you twenty years in jail. So the political game is played among Tutsi. And the Tutsi do not agree on how to deal with the Congo in general and with Laurent Nkunda in particular.

Some, like President Kagame himself, want to put the past behind them, develop Rwanda along extremely modernistic lines and turn the country into the Singapore of Africa. But others do not believe in such a possibility and still see the Congo as a mineral mother-lode waiting to be exploiteddo not believe in such a possibility and still see the Congo as a mineral mother-lode waiting to be exploited; they include some of Kagame's closest associates such as the semi-exiled ambassador Kayumba Nyamwasa and army chief-of-staff James Kabarebe (one of the ten Rwandan officials indicted by a French arrest-warrant from 2006, which led to the arrest of Rwanda's head of protocol in Frankfurt on 9 November 2008).

A wider explosion?

The outcome of the United States presidential election on 4 November 2008 is an encouragement for the latter group. After all, it was the Africanists around Bill Clinton (who are now Barack Obama's men and women) who supported the Kigali invasion of the DR Congo while it was Republican secretary of state Colin Powell who brought it to a halt in 2001. Have the Democrats changed their views on the region or do they still believe in the fiction that Rwanda only intervenes in the Congo in order to keep the ugly génocidaires at bay? In any case the situation in the DRC is now more serious than it has been at any point since the signature of the 2002 peace agreement (see From Genocide to Continental War: The ‘Congolese’ Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa, C Hurst, 2008).

But does it actually mean the situation has returned to that of 1998, and the DR Congo is about to explode into another civil war? Probably not. Why? Because there are several fundamental differences:

* Rwanda, even if it is involved, is involved at a marginal and contradictory level .

* in 1998, pro-Kigali elements controlled large segments of the Forces Armées Congolaises (FAC), the then Congolese national army. The initial onslaught was carried out through an internal rebellion of the armed forces. Not so today. Nkunda controls only an army of unofficial militiamen

* in 1998 the regime of Laurent-Désiré Kabila was very weak, hardly legitimate and did not have any serious international support. Today his son Joseph Kabila is strongly supported by the internal community after overseeing a flawed but clearly democratic election

* the Congolese economy was at the time in complete disarray while today it is only in poor shape, with possibilities of picking up

* President Kagame could count on the almost unlimited sympathy of the world which felt guilty for its neglect during the genocide. Not so today. His moral credibility has been seriously damaged by the horrors his troops committed in the DR Congo during 1998-2002 and his political standing is increasingly being questioned, both by legal action going back to the genocide period (reflected in the French indictment and Frankfurt arrest) and by his electoral "triumphs" (which are a throwback to the worst days of fake African political unanimity)

* the diplomatic context, reflected in the current visit to the region of the United Nations envoy (and Nigeria's former president) Olusegun Obasanjo, is more favourable to negotiation

* In 1998 there was no United Nations peacekeeping force in eastern DR Congo. If the international community decides to straighten out its act, Monuc could make the difference.

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir: a useful war criminal

The request on 14 July 2008 to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to indict Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, on ten charges of war crimes and genocide has unleashed intense polemics that - three months on - show no sign of diminishing. The main lines of argument were formed immediately after the announcement - indeed it may equally be said that they formed long before it, and that the request (made by the ICC president, Luis Moreno-Ocampo) merely gave them a pretext for more voluble expression. In any event, opposition and support of the decision fall into two camps:

Gérard Prunier is research professor at the University of Paris. He is the author of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst, 1998), Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (C Hurst, revised edition, 2007), and From Genocide to Continental War: The Congolese Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (C Hurst, 2008)

Among Gérard Prunier's articles in openDemocracy:

"Darfur's Sudan problem" (15 September 2006),

"The DR Congo's political opportunity" (14 March 2007),

"Chad, the CAR and Darfur: dynamics of conflict" (18 April 2007),

"Chad's tragedy" (7 September 2007),

"Sudan between war and peace" (1 November 2007),

"Khartoum's calculated fever" (5 December 2007),

"Kenya: roots of crisis" (7 January 2008),

"Sudan in a fix" (26 June 2008)
▪ the "realists" - who hold that al-Bashir's indictment would "compromise the Darfur peace process" and even possibly lead Sudan into a state of anarchy

▪ the "legalists/moralists" - who contend that not indicting al-Bashir would both deal a heavy blow to the credibility of the young ICC and lend encouragement to those seeking to tolerate or indulge crimes against humanity.

This article looks at the issues surrounding the historic indictment of Omar al-Bashir through the lens of this vigorous argument.

The political-moral debate

The context of the indictment is what has happened in Sudan's western region of Darfur since conflict began there in February 2003, and the "Darfur peace process" which has consumed so many words, summits and missions in the effort to end it. Any consideration of this "peace process" is at its heart retrospective, because after the signing in Abuja of the Darfur peace agreement (DPA) in May 2006 there has been next to nothing in the field of solid achievement.

There are many ways to register the failure. The provincial assemblies which under the agreement's provisions were designed to guarantee the Darfuris some measure of political control over their own fate were packed with supporters of the Khartoum regime; the killer janjaweed militias were never disarmed, and kept killing; the money supposed to be paid into an economic-development  and stability fund for Darfur (DCPSF) was never made available; even the pitiful amount of compensation pledged to the internally-displaced ($18 per person) was not disbursed.

The political environment around the agreement made its prospects even worse. Just one of the guerrilla factions in Darfur - the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) group led by Minni Arcua Minnawi - was prepared to sign, even in face of the pressures the international community exerted on Darfuri rebel groups to comply. After the DPA was reached, Minni tried to enforce compliance from the non-signatories by attacking them and killing their civilian supporters. He failed on two counts, for his own men quickly grew disgusted by the Khartoum government's betrayal of its own commitments, and the SLA went back to war.

Minni resolved a hard choice by leaving Khartoum and going back into the bush in Darfur in July 2008; though it is now reported that he is again succumbing to al-Bashir's blandishments (see "Darfur Minnawi returns to Sudanese capital this week", Sudan Tribune, 14 October 2008). The other guerrilla factions were confirmed in their rejection of the DPA, and - a handful of unrepresentative government stooges apart - no other rebels were prepared to discuss anything with Khartoum.

All this leaves an obvious question: when the "realist" camp uses the "Darfur peace process" as an argument against Omar al-Bashir's indictment, what exactly is being referred to? For such a process, active or even latent, does not exist. 

A possible response is that at least the internally-displaced people (IDPs) in the camps might support letting the Sudanese president remain free of charge - on the pragmatic grounds that they stand to suffer even more in the event that al-Bashir responds to his indictment by venting his anger on them. There is no indication that this is so: indeed, their continued support for refusenik SLA leader Abdel-Wahid Mohamed an-Nur is a clear indication that they stand ready to shoulder the possibly terrible consequences of their choice. This desperate courage comes from 2.4 million people who have lost everything, from their loved ones to their houses and their means of economic subsistence. But this is precisely what makes it so understandable - for they often feel that their terrible sacrifices would be meaningless if their persecutor was allowed to escape any legal sanction.

A further claim of the "realist" school is that an al-Bashir indictment would have the effect of destabilising the regime and pushing Sudan into anarchy. This is extremely doubtful, and in fact the opposite case is more plausible. The present regime in Khartoum has lied repeatedly and has never honoured any of the documents it has signed - whether the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) with the south, the DPA, or eastern peace agreement (EPA, signed in October 2006 with the eastern-front guerrillas).

Among openDemocracy's article on Sudan and international justice:

Nick Grono & David Mozersky, "Sudan and the ICC: a question of accountability" (31 January 2007)

Nick Grono, "The International Criminal Court: success or failure?" (9 June 2008)

Alex de Waal, "Sudan and the International Criminal Court: a guide to the controversy" (14 July 2008)

Victor Peskin, "The Omar al-Bashir indictment: the ICC and the Darfur crisis" (15 July 2008)

Marlies Glasius, "What is global justice and who is it for? The ICC's first five years" (21 July 2008)
This record, along with the regime's shamelessness, makes it less than likely that the election in Sudan scheduled for 2009 will be free and fair; or that the self-determination referendum for the south due in 2011 will be held on time and carried out honestly (especially since the south produces 80% of Sudan's oil and that a vote for independence would deprive Khartoum of all those revenues). This would mean that the probable result of the continuation of the present regime in Khartoum will be more war sometime during the next three years - not only in Darfur, but all over the country (see "Sudan between war and peace", 1 November 2007).

If this is so, then why should the international community protect Sudan's regime from the consequences of its own greed and cruelty?

There are three possible answers:

▪ the ultra-conservative nature of the international community: the Sudanese regime exists and - so runs the way of thinking - should not be tampered with simply because it exists

▪ the collaboration that Sudan's secret services are reported to have given the CIA in the United States's "war on terror". This project has become a mantra in Washington and anything that can remotely be seized on as evidence of its "success" has become sacrosanct - even when (as in this case) hard results have completely failed to justify the policy

▪ the US's reluctance, after the giant blunder of Iraq, to get into a conflict with another Muslim country (Iran is a special case). Thus American miscalculations in the middle east protect the rogue regime in Khartoum.

In these circumstances, the extended domination of the ruling order in Khartoum, far from being a condition of notional "stability", is practically a guarantee of further violence in the 2008-11 period. This makes it difficult to justify not indicting President Omar el-Bashir on the "realist" grounds of political stability.

The ground-level politics

In the three months since the 14 July 2008 announcement, Khartoum has engaged in frantic diplomatic activity to try to rally its potential supporters behind a single objective: invoking Article 16 of the Rome statute of 1998 (the founding document of the International Criminal Court), which allows for a one-year deferment of an indictment in response to a demand by the United Nations.

Khartoum can count for support in its delaying tactics on the African Union, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), Russia, China and - conditionally - France. The French position is particularly ambiguous. Paris was at the heart of the small coalition which had managed to push through Resolution 1593 (2005), referring the Darfur situation to the ICC; but now it says that it might support a recourse to Article 16 if Khartoum does four things:

▪ transfers two previously indicted Sudanese officials - former janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb, and Sudan's humanitarian-affairs minister Ahmed Haroun - to the ICC

▪ stops hindering the deployment of the UN mission in Darfur (Unamid)

▪ recommits to the "Darfur peace process"

▪ stops interfering in Chad's internal affairs.

Nicolas Sarkozy, when he visited New York for the United Nations annual meeting on 23 September 2008, even said that Khartoum's only obligation was to ensure that the two indicted men would "stop being ministers" (a bizarre demand since one of them, Ali Kushayb, has never held such office) and they be judged "by a Sudanese court". This was followed on 6 October by a high-level bilateral meeting between France and Sudan in Paris (see "Sudan delegation meets French officials", Daily Nation [Nairobi], 6 October 2008). 

The African Union, China and possibly France will push on for the use of Article 16, while Washington will veto any recourse to that process. Khartoum is well aware of its constrained room for manoeuvre, and intent on giving the impression of movement. On 13 October, it announced the arrest of Ali Kushayb (also known as Ali Mohamed Ali Abdul-Rehman), with justice minister Abdul-Basit Sabdarat declaring that he would be tried by a Sudanese court; on 16 October, the president is launching another rhetorical initiative on Darfur (see "Sudan president calls for national solution to Darfur crisis", Sudan Tribune, 14 October 2008).

But on the ground, Khartoum seems intent on solving the problem by force - whatever the humanitarian cost. Omar al-Bashir's brazen and tightly controlled visit to Darfur in response to the indictment request on 14 July was followed by a major military offensive against guerrilla strongholds in Darfur; the aim was to cut off the lines of military supply from Chad to both the SLA and the Justice & Equality Movement (JEM) - Ndjamena itself being still engaged in a war to the finish with Khartoum. Why this sudden urgency? Because Khalil Ibrahim, the JEM leader who attacked Khartoum and Omdurman in the daring raid of 10 May 2007, preferred to remain in the strategic centre of Kordofan rather than return to Darfur.

Khalil Ibrahim may be planning a new attack on the Sudanese capital, while showing polite interest in the Qatar-mediated peace talks that are attempting to draw in the leading factions in the conflict. If such an attack were combined with an ICC indictment of President al-Bashir, this could tip the scales and lead to a military coup (Khalil himself, after all, is a former Muslim Brother and regime activist, who still has many contacts in regime circles). The Sudanese regime is fully aware of the danger; when it conjures the spectre of "anarchy", its true meaning is: "this ICC indictment could change the balance of power inside the Sudan and lead to our downfall".

Will Khartoum's attempted blackmail succeed? At this point it is impossible to tell. The guerrilla movements are very uneasy about the persistently pro-al-Bashir stance of the African Union (whose forces are the military mainstay of the joint AU/United Nations military mission [Unamid]). The threats are clear: while Khartoum hints that it could call on al-Qaida's aid, the insurgents say they could hit the AU/UN force if the indictment is deferred. The Sudanese timebomb is ticking. 

Sudan in a fix

The complex interplay of interconnected conflicts in Sudan and its neighbourhood retains the capacity to surprise. A case in point is the moment on 10 May 2008 when the war in the country's western province of Darfur suddenly arrived in the capital, with an attack on Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman by one of the leading Darfuri rebel movements, the Justice & Equality Movement (JEM) led by Khalil Ibrahim.

Kenya: histories of hidden war

Kenya has for many years been a favourite tourist destination, at least partly because it is the natural locus of white fantasies about Africa. All the elements are there: spectacular landscapes, teeming wildlife, "picturesque" natives, colonial kitsch, Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa and Walt Disney's The Lion King. But there is also a sinister side: memories of Mau-Mau insurgency, the arrogant settlers of White Mischief, Bruce Berman's Unhappy Valley, Robert Ruark's novels, runaway crime - and today this, violence in paradise.

Chad: between Sudan’s blitzkrieg and Darfur’s war

The Chadian rebels' dawn attack on the capital Ndjamena on 2 February 2008 was yet another case of a frustrated group of disgruntled African politicians throwing child soldiers at a sordid ethnic dictatorship they were hoping to overthrow in order to replace it with their own.

Kenya: roots of crisis

Gérard Prunier is research professor at the University of Paris and director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa.

He is the author of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst, 1998), Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (C Hurst, revised edition, 2007), and From Genocide to Continental War: The Congolese Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa

Also by Gérard Prunier in openDemocracy:

"Darfur's Sudan problem" (15 September 2006)

"The DR Congo's political opportunity" (14 March 2007)

"Chad, the CAR and Darfur: dynamics of conflict" (18 April 2007)

"Chad's tragedy" (7 September 2007)

"Sudan between war and peace" (1 November 2007)

"Khartoum's calculated fever" (5 December 2007) (C Hurst, 2006)

Khartoum’s calculated fever

The three weeks in Sudan from mid-November 2007 have been a strange period, where the continuing tragedy in Darfur and the farce of a British primary-school teacher imprisoned for allowing her class to name a teddy-bear "Mohammed" commingle yet seem to belong to different worlds. But what marks the current phase in particular as one of escalating tension is the bizarre quality of a number of the Sudanese government's declarations and actions; this is even clearer when the public record is tracked in Arabic, since the original sources are often quite a bit rougher than their English translations .

Sudan between war and peace

Two recent events - the withdrawal of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) from Sudan's "government of national unity" on 11 October 2007, and the opening of the Darfur peace talks in Sirte, Libya, on 27 October - have propelled the Sudan crisis to its highest level of emergency since the so-called "comprehensive peace agreement" (CPA) was signed in Nairobi in January 2005. Where does that leave the prospects of settling the current violent conflicts in the country, and of preventing new ones from bursting open?

Chad's tragedy

The evolving conflict and humanitarian crisis in Chad is the subject of far less scrutiny than the catastrophe in the Darfur region of Sudan just across its eastern border. The “attention deficit” is regrettable, yet in one respect forgiveable: for what is happening in Chad is becoming ever more deeply entwined with the overall regional situation. Indeed, it would be appropriate to register the overlapping conflicts in a single term: the Darfur/Chad civil wars. Chad's political history in the last generation is the key to understanding why this is so.

Chad, like its neighbour Sudan and many other states across the Sahelian belt, is divided between a deeply "African" south and an Arab-influenced north. But in Chad, contrary to neighbouring Sudan, the prosperous part of the country during the French colonial days was the cotton-producing and Christian south. So at independence in 1960 the political control of the country went to the southerners, causing a revolt of the northern Chadian tribes (often loosely regrouped under the name of Tubu) against the dominant south in 1966. This released a cycle of civil conflict which, after a period of uneasy peace between 1990 and 2004, has blown up again, partly as a consequence of the civil war in the neighbouring Sudanese province of Darfur (see "Darfur's Sudan problem", 15 September 2006).

Chad, the CAR and Darfur: dynamics of conflict

A spreading arc of African conflict is rooted in a toxic mix of colonialism, poverty, oil and political ambition. Gérard Prunier dissects the Chadian crisis.

The DR Congo's political opportunity

The giant of central Africa has surmounted a difficult election and is coping with a painful aftermath. But the political and security challenges remain immense, says Gérard Prunier.

Darfur's Sudan problem

Darfur is burning - again. More than four months after the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) was signed in Abuja, Nigeria on 5 May 2006, the people of this region of western Sudan are being displaced, killed, terrorised and violated in their thousands. The prospect of an end to a crisis that has devastated the territory since conflict broke out in February 2003 seems more remote than ever.

The designation of 17 September 2006 as a "global day for Darfur" is a welcome, if belated, signal of concern for a region too often relegated in the league-table of international attention far behind Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. But such gestures, however honourable, reveal the futility of so much international engagement over the past three and a half years. This failure has many dimensions, but at its heart lies an inability to understand the history, context and dynamics of "the Darfur problem".

The DPA: stalling or dead?

Alex de Waal's article on openDemocracy ("Darfur's fragile peace", 5 July 2006) is a case in point. It is well-intentioned - but unfortunately it bears very little relation to the reality in Darfur - then or now. In essence, de Waal's argument is that the Darfur Peace Agreement - signed by the Sudanese government and the faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Arkoy Minnawi - represents a progressive solution to the crisis in Darfur; but that, at the time of writing, the agreement "is stalling".

It is relevant that Alex de Waal was a principal advisor to the negotiating teams in Abuja, and had vigorously defended the provisions of the DPA as a "historic opportunity" which should not be missed - since not signing this text would open the door to renewed violence in the province.

Ten weeks on, the ruins of the agreement are everywhere apparent. A host of reports and testimonies confirm that the violence has got worse as the offensive military operations of the Sudanese government have escalated. The scale of atrocities is comparable with those perpetrated during the massacres of late 2003 and early 2004. It cannot be believed that this is due only to the fact that the DPA's implementation "is stalling".

This is not a case of political goodwill being waylaid by poorly-handled technical arrangements, as de Waal's formulations imply. Rather than face this inconvenient truth, the author discusses the nature of an eventual foreign military intervention (which earlier he had thought inadvisable). A "purely military solution to the janjaweed problem would be large, long and costly", he writes, requiring "an intervention force of 200,000 for an indefinite period". In other words, Darfur would become a second Iraq, admittedly a rather unpleasant prospect.

De Waal reaches this conclusion by arguing that military strikes against the janjaweed could not be selective, since many units of the irregular janjaweed are "now part of the Sudanese regular forces". Thus, such attacks "would entail declaring war on the Sudan government. No doubt some advocates of intervention would be delighted to do just that". In other words, only irresponsible warmongers could contemplate a direct military intervention.

Nonetheless, de Waal advises one course of action that would be compatible with the DPA: a step-by-step plan that requires "the Sudanese army ... to do the tough work". This is to ensure the effective cantonment of the janjaweed, and to "reforming and downsizing the paramilitary institutions that have absorbed janjaweed (to be done under the auspices of a commission headed by a nominee of the rebel movements), establishing controlled migration routes for nomadic pastoralists, and setting up a community disarmament process supervised by a group of tribal elders known as the 'peace and reconciliation council'. This entire process would be supported by a foreign intervention which would be "smaller, smarter and with a long-term perspective". Actually, a long-term perspective is exactly what this idyllic view of the situation lacks.

Gérard Prunier is research professor at the University of Paris and director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He is the author of The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide (C Hurst, 1995), Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (C Hurst, 2005), and From Genocide to Continental war: The Congolese Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa (C Hurst, 2006).

Gérard Prunier is responding here to an earlier openDemocracy article:

Alex de Waal, "Darfur's fragile peace"
(5 July 2006)

The need for context

There are three unfeasible propositions embodied in this account. The first is that the Sudanese government - which has armed, organised and unleashed the janjaweed - would, if gently prodded in the right direction, disentangle its regular army units from their common encampments with the killer militias and reform the paramilitary institutions which it has created to hide them from international scrutiny.

The second is that the same political regime could be committed to sponsoring neutral "peace and reconciliation councils" which would genuinely discuss the long-standing social, economic, ethnic and historical contradictions of Darfur in order to promote a balanced and durable peace.

The third is that such a constructive process could be realised with the help of a "smaller, smarter" military force whose simple presence would turn yesterday's killers into committed peacemakers, apparently without having to fire a shot.

Alex De Waal cites the example of the Botswanan contingent of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia, which was supposedly able to control the Baardheere (Bardera) region in 1993 because it had "asked the clan elders what their problems were and worked collaboratively to solve them". As a means of persuading the reader of the appropriateness of his prognosis, this is less than effective: what remains in Baardheere today of the Botswanan peacemaking process?

What is wrong with such an approach is the lack of historical and political frameworks. The present Darfur horror is neither an ethnic mess due to "ancient tribal hatreds" (a favourite Sudanese regime explanation); nor an unfortunate by-product of drought and desertification (a sometime de Waalian perspective); nor even a plot by sworn enemies of the Khartoum regime (even if the presence of Abdallah Khalil among the Darfur insurgents lends a minimum of credibility to the accusation). The Darfur conflict is a historically and politically logical situation which will not be tamed by optimistic peacemaking recipes.

Darfur is a former independent state which the British almost absent-mindedly annexed to the bloated territory of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium in 1916 for reasons of questionable military strategy in the middle of the "great war". Since the territory was useless, they forgot about it almost as soon as they had acquired it and the place remained ignored, frustrated and dormant until the 1970s. By then it had become progressively embroiled in the complicated centre-periphery games that the Sudanese elites and their subject people had begun to play with each other after independence in 1956.

Darfur was populated by "African" tribes (who were mostly sedentary) and "Arab" ones (who were uniformly nomadic). This division had never mattered much during the years of Darfurian autonomy or, later, of imperial neglect. But it suddenly began to matter a lot when the time came to decide how the province would be apportioned between pro- and anti-Khartoum populations.

Khartoum and Darfur

The government in Khartoum had been run since independence by Nile valley "Arabs", who are in fact a mixed-blood population of Cushitic, Semitic and Nilotic origins, speaking a slightly Creole version of Arabic. These people, who proudly call themselves awlad al-beled ("the sons of the land", a denomination implying that other ethnic groups are the somewhat illegitimate children of Sudan), desperately try to present themselves as "Arabs" because they are far from certain of being so. When they travel to other parts of the Arab world populated by "true" Arabs, they are often greeted with the derogatory epithet of 'Abd (slave), one which they are only too ready to hurl at those more black than themselves when at home.

By the 1970s the division between the awlad al-beled and the others began to rear its head. The main body of illegitimate ones was, naturally, the black African Christians of the south who, for obvious reasons, had never accepted the fiction of Sudan's Arab identity. But Islam still worked as a kind of social and cultural glue for the rest of the country.

The Nile valley "Arabs" who ran the country looked for support among the non-Arab Muslim populations; and, since elites everywhere have always used subject classes to do the dying for them when war comes, they sent the black Muslims living in the Darfurian and Nuba mountains to the south to kill the Christians and die for the cohesion of the central "Arab" state. But while fighting for the greater glory of Islam and Arabism, the black Muslim populations of the periphery also got caught in the intra-elite wars of the centre.

The old post-colonial trading and agrarian elite left in power by the British had been challenged by the rise of a new commercial and technical class trying to claim its place at the political centre. Some members of that class followed Colonel Jaafar Nimeiri when he took power with the help of the communists in 1969; others put their bets on the rising Muslim Brotherhood movement. The old post-colonial elite fought against both, defeated the communists and Nimeiri to recover power briefly (1986-89), only for the Muslim Brotherhood finally to win the contest through a military coup. Throughout, the populations of Darfur were marshalled by the old elites to fight the new ones, lending themselves to being further divided in the process.

The "Africans" and the "Arabs" in Darfur had been variously affected by this power struggle, which however concerned them only peripherally. The "Arabs" at the centre had drafted their Darfurian junior relatives to fight in the southern war, but also in order to consolidate the Arabism of their culturally-mixed western province. Now that the (heathen) black south was becoming more and more threatening, it was increasingly important to reinforce the "Arab" identity of what was in fact a frontier territory - in the way bocas do sertao have been in Brazil and the far west has been in the US.

In this new dispensation, the "African" tribes in Darfur became a threat, a Trojan horse of backwardness. The fact that they were Muslims was secondary. They were, after all, not "Arabs"; and since the Nile valley elites were not too sure of their own Arabism, they wanted all the more to consolidate it in the far periphery.

The accumulated result was that by the mid-1980s, the "Africans" in Darfur were under siege. To make matters worse, demography had slowly evolved in their favour and the Nile valley "Arabs" now felt that "Arabism" in the west was threatened by the rising numbers of the "Africans" and had to be defended by force. The 1984 famine only made matters worse by pitting the two sides against each other for ecological reasons; by the time the Islamists took power in Khartoum in the late 1980s, the tensions had reached the stage of an undeclared sporadic war.

The final straw that broke the back of the peace camel was ... peace in the south of Sudan. The fifty-year war between north and south was slowly coming to a negotiated end that was not yet seen as doomed to unavoidable dissatisfaction. The Darfurians progressively came to feel that the redistribution of political cards between centre and periphery could now possibly benefit the heathen southerners while they - the former disciplined foot-soldiers of the empire - would be left exposed and vulnerable.

For the "African" tribes who were doubly marginalised - as "blacks" and as denizens of the periphery - there seemed only one path to follow if they wanted a seat at the negotiating table on the day of the final national showdown: armed revolt. For Khartoum this was the ultimate threat: a revolt of its Muslim margins. It had to be dealt with once and for all with the utmost violence under penalty of political and cultural meltdown. The Darfur frontier had become dangerous; it had to be defended (as one Islamist thinker had put it) against a potential "push from the jungles of Africa".

Also in openDemocracy about Darfur:

Stephen Ellis, "Darfur: countdown to catastrophe"
(10 June 2004)

Lyndall Stein, "Darfur journal"
(18 November 2004)

Suliman Baldo, "Darfur's peace plan: the view from the ground"
(24 May 2006)

Simon Roughneen, "Darfur: between peace and delivery"
(26 June 2006)

David Mepham, "Darfur and the 'responsibility to protect'"
(12 September 2006)

A pretence of unity

In light of this heavy inheritance of economic neglect, identity fears, cultural prejudices and programmed political violence, is it conceivable that once the business of ethnic cleansing has been launched, it could be rolled back simply by signing a piece of paper and deploying a "small and smart" military force to coax the offending parties into nicer behaviour? This seems improbable. The DPA is not failing because of procedural neglect or because its only signatory is "weak"; it is failing (as, indeed, is the south Sudan CPA signed in January 2005) because it is a flimsy paper obstacle in the way of a centuries-long historical process which has been left largely unresolved.

Sudan is the crossroads of the African continent and the middle east - an uncertain country haphazardly cobbled together first by the Ottomans in the 19th century and later by the British during the 20th. It has no cultural coherence or geopolitical logic, even though its populations have become used to living together. The main problem hampering their workable cohabitation is the imperial rule of the centre vis-à-vis the periphery, under the guise of a fake "Arab" identity whose own beneficiaries are in doubt over.

The pretence of national unity resulting from that imperial rule sort of hung together for half a century after independence, but it is now worn so thin that it cannot be mended. At the same time, even if the south's fundamental heterogeneity leads it to envisage a future in secession, this is not the case for the Muslim regions who are poor relatives of the Nile valley elites rather than essentially different elements.

Alex de Waal's solution consists in asking the Khartoum ethnic poachers to turn themselves into respectable national-unity gamekeepers. This is a rather unlikely development. Our only point of agreement is the fact that some kind of massive Nato military onslaught, even if it was thinkable given its costs and the west's hypocritical indifference, would be a disaster. It would perhaps not be Iraq but it would certainly be another bumbling Somalia-type "Operation Restore Hope".

Moreover, the prospect of a "smaller, smarter" commando-type force being able to lead Darfur's "Arab" tribal elders suddenly to part ways with Khartoum's manipulative ethnic cleansing, wake up to the common plight they share with their African brethren, and sponsor a Darfur peace and reconciliation process, is fantasy. This force would simply be a smaller, lighter version of the present African Union force, doomed to more massacre-gazing and sterile report-writing. The "Arab" elders would be unlikely to pay it much heed.

The real option

What, then, is to be done? In the real world, the options are grim. It is possible to let things run their course and see the ethnic cleansing result in several thousand casualties more. This is still the most likely probability, given the incapacity of the international community to think beyond a ritualistic wail for a UN force to be deployed (which, even were it to be deployed, is unlikely to be effective).

Another option would be to accept the fact that a major historical process is at work in a key corner of the continent and that it can be brought to a close only by the Sudanese themselves, not by foreigners. The ensuing logic of intervention would be to take sides in favour or against some of the actors in the conflict. This would in turn involve a clear, realistic judgment of their political character.

To take but one example: Minni Minnawi is not, as Alex de Waal sees him, "weak". He is a tough and resolute small-time hoodlum who has been propelled by historical circumstances into a position (senior advisor on Darfur to Sudan's president) way beyond his political relevance. As he is the sole signatory of the DPA, his repeated casual violations of human rights at all levels make a mockery of the so-called "peace process" he is supposed to implement.

In any case, there is no room for self-delusion: a true negotiation about the future of Sudan and the relative place of its various populations in an ensemble that still remains to be defined will in no way resemble the shadow theatre of Naivasha or Abuja. It can only come after political-military control and positioning on the ground have been redefined by the combatants themselves, rather than being artificially manipulated by outsiders (and outsiders, moreover, who are not even ready to honour the commitments they have made once the Sudanese they have "persuaded" into signing raise this issue).

A true negotiation would also mean that the type of centralised, Nile valley "Arab" regime which has ruled Sudan since 1956 under one guise or another will also have to go. Its replacement must be a federation of some kind, though the creation of such a model will require an immensely difficult and detailed task of institution-building. The multi-ethnic nature of the country will have to be turned into a reality and not - as is the case at present - remain a polite fiction hiding the reality of "Arab" cultural, economic and political domination.

None of this will be easy or peaceful. The elections scheduled for 2009 in Sudan will be an important political benchmark of progress in this direction, though if the present regime remains in charge it is unlikely that they will be free, fair or honest.

Even amid such a long-overdue comprehensive overhaul of an unjust and obsolete political system - still a distant prospect - Darfur will remain a particular case. Its citizens will have to choose whether they accept their common regional bonds or whether they prefer to follow the beat of a distant drummer on the banks of the Nile. Their future, their lives - or possibly their deaths - will depend not on short-term technical fixes but on themselves: on the choices they make and on the means put at their disposal to achieve them.

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