It may have been the most encouraging news to come out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in recent months, but not all Congolese citizens feel assured. On 05 November 2013, Kinshasa’s most notorious ‘Maï-Maï’ foe, the M23 rebel movement, declared an end to its armed insurgency, claiming it would only use “political means” to achieve its goals. As if to prove its sincerity, the M23 also called upon fellow soldiers, even those who fled across the border into Uganda, to drop their weapons and cease hostilities with the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo (FARDC) – also known as the Congolese Army. The UN welcomed the statement, saying the defeat would send an “intimidating message” to the dozens of other Maï-Maï – a term Congolese use to refer to militias – operating the region. International leaders also praised the move as a “first step” toward peace, while FARDC soldiers celebrated their victory in the streets. All positive developments aside, one burning question remains: how long will this peace last?
Their name may be synonymous with terror – particularly the embassy-attacking kind – but that has not stopped the infamous Ansar al Sharia Brigade from trying to elicit support from the public. Indeed, despite being vilified by the international media, as well as the US, Libyan and Tunisian governments, the Brigade appears to be have unleashed a new marketing campaign, one that shows the ‘softer, cuddlier’ side of the hard-line Islamist organisation. Over the past few weeks Libyans have noticed that Ansar al Sharia, a group widely suspected of orchestrating the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, has stepped up its “volunteering activities” by handing out food and other supplies in the days leading up to, and following, the Islamic holy day of Eid al Adha.
To make sure the public is aware of its good deeds, in early October 2013 Ansar al Sharia circulated videos via social media which showed its members delivering sheep, to be used for slaughter during Eid al Adha, to Cyrenaica’s underprivileged citizens. Not stopping there, images highlighting Ansar al Sharia’s recruitment efforts, which involved the extremist group offering free footballs to those who signed up for the organisation, were also recently published online. These tactics, however, are only the latest in a series of publicity stunts aimed at shoring up domestic support.
It was a decision that would bring him comparisons to the likes of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe; nonetheless, the choice appeared to satisfy Gambia’s own long-reigning leader, President Yahya Jammeh. On 02 October 2013, Jammeh suddenly announced his country’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth, declaring that the West African nation would “never be a member of any neo-colonial institution”. Then came accusations of a foreign coup conspiracy. Just six days after confirming The Gambian departure, President Jammeh released a statement via a state-owned television channel, in which he claimed that both the UK and US had launched “a vigorous smear campaign” against his leadership. For Jammeh, this campaign consisted of “outrageous lies and false allegations”, a game of dirty politics he believed were part of a grand design to remove him from office. What followed next was perhaps predictable. Both the US and UK denied the allegations, whilst the Gambian diaspora have since tried to call attention to the plight of their fellow citizens from abroad. Jammeh, meanwhile, has chosen to stand by his convictions that he is coming under fire from foreign interests which would like nothing more than to unseat an authoritative African leader in order to achieve their unspecified neoliberal agenda. The President’s defiance perhaps begs the question: what are his motives?
Whilst the nature of Jammeh’s personal ambitions may be impossible to confirm, the evidence suggests that the President could be trying to deflect domestic criticism in order to maintain his fledgling grip on power. Indeed, President Jammeh’s history of human rights abuses, combined with his questionable foreign policy, could be the real catalyst for his undoing – and not, as he claims, the conspiratorial goals of Western powers.
Assassinations are proving to be, yet again, among the most problematic security issues facing Libya. With at least sixteen incidents recorded in September 2013, alone, officials are struggling to come to terms with the fact that the fallout from the 2011 uprising may not be over. As can be expected, the overwhelming majority of these security setbacks take place in the East, with Benghazi often playing centre stage to targeted killings. Here, local news outlets regularly provide updates on “unidentified” armed men opening fire on seemingly unsuspecting ‘Gaddafi’-linked judges, as well as non-regime-aligned security officers, activists and journalists. Elsewhere in Libya, ‘anonymous’ individuals have also been reported planting explosive devices underneath the vehicles of anxious police officers, or targeting unwary local businessmen.
Even to the casual observer of Libyan affairs, assassinations pose a significant problem to the security of the Maghreb state. What is more difficult to assess, however, is whether the situation is becoming worse; and who, exactly, is responsible for these horrific attacks?
A crowd gathered outside a local shopping centre in Kenya, going about their usual business, unaware of the bloodshed that was to commence. Suddenly, a group of heavily armed men dashed onto the scene, and began hurling grenades. Not content with this horrific action, the assailants immediately opened fire toward the unsuspecting crowd, leaving at least one person killed and two others injured. But this was not the Westgate mall massacre. This was 25 September 2013, in Kenya’s northern Wajir town.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death in August 2012 was supposed to be a turning point for Ethiopia. According to some, perhaps naive, idealists, the end of Zenawi’s two-decade-long regime – no matter how popular – suggested the East African country was ‘ready’ to transition toward a pluralised democratic society. In this vision, Ethiopia would steer away from being an entirely state-run system of political and economic governance, ruled almost exclusively by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Likewise, there had been hope Ethiopia might finally fall in line with the Washington consensus and adopt a neoliberal economic model. Pessimists, however, saw Zenawi’s untimely demise as a warning sign the country would descend into chaos, with rival political, ethnic and even religious factions engaging in protests-turned-violent clashes. As it turned out, neither camp proved correct.
(Note: This blog features an interactive map which strives to present a basic picture of the DRC’s most notorious armed groups.)
To understand the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is, at first, to be reminded of the African country’s unfortunate role as a land of timeworn stereotypes. These include the usual round of Eurocentric finger wagging, where Western elites engage in heated debates regarding ‘what went wrong’ with the militia-ridden Congo ‘experiment’. Another cliché involves a deeply embarrassed Belgian leader haunted by his or her country’s historical role in president day Congolese affairs. Then, of course, there is the contentious role of the multi-national corporation, and its alleged determination to ensure that stability never comes to the DRC for fear of lost lucrative mining contracts.
In short, somewhere within this land of stereotypes there lies the truth. However, in a country where millions of civilians have suffered for decades at the hands of dictatorial regimes, rogue militias eyeing resource riches, and other internationally-backed rebellious factions, it becomes apparent that cracking the ‘Congo Code’ will not be easy. Nevertheless, a good starting point may be to look at some of the DRC’s most notorious armed rebel groups surrounding the eastern city of Goma.