Archive for May, 2013

In the aftermath of civil wars there is a general belief that old command structures of former rebel movements and militias is a serious threat to newfound stability. Indeed there is enough evidence around pointing out how easily remobilized such networks are. There is however a tendency of viewing this mobilization as the very logic of the networks themselves – as if their very raison d’être is to create eternal conflict. The problem with this hackneyed focus on armed groups is that we are letting the leading political characters that acted behind the façade of the armed groups off the hook. In any DDR process a lot of effort is placed on dismantling chains of command, command and control etc., of armed groups. Despite this, ten years after the end of the second Liberian war contacts between commanders and their former soldiers still prevail, yet most commonly for non-military reasons. Indeed some networks of ex-combatants have disappeared but many others remain. It appears that what the DDR process chiefly managed to do was to drive the networks underground and out of sight of the international community.

Liberian elites are well-aware of the continued existence and function of these networks and although the governing elite partly fears that former generals and their chain of commands may be used by competing elites, to challenge them, in fact most times they tend themselves to see the advantages of these networks and use them for own purposes. The most obvious example is during elections where parties compete over ex-combatant networks and where most former generals remobilize their former soldiers (see my blog posts: Off stage politics, Election riots and Post-election, Anders Themnér Report from Monrovia: ”You go where the sunshine is” and Mariam Persson: The logic of staying mobilised – Liberian ex-combatants and the 2011 elections). Equally so politicians/businessmen see advantages of using ex-combatant networks for mobilizing labor, both as security and manual labor (for a good example see Mariam Persson’s chapter in the book African conflicts and informal power edited by me, but also Danny Hoffman’s excellent book The war machines).

Anders Themnér and I are now on the last year of researching the roles of former mid-level commanders (ex-MiLCs), commonly referred to as generals in Liberia, and their roles in post-war Liberia (The Informal Realities of Peacebuilding – Military Networks and Former Mid-Level Commanders in Post-War Liberia). One of our starting points, deriving from previous research, is that the networks of former combatants that we study are in themselves neither good nor bad, in fact they are only mobilized (or remobilized) when political actors take action – rebel generals do not themselves start wars. One of our key findings is that former generals continue to control the labor of ex-combatants, not only the soldiers they previously commanded over, but also other predominantly young men who see personal advantages of “being behind” him/her. They have in fact many times located a socio-economic, and at times political, niche of brokering deals between political and economic elite and their former foot-soldiers. We have seen how this works very well in informal situations where ex-MiLCs hold no formal position in the society. However we have also seen how a good number of ex-MiLCs are today firmly integrated in the formal texture of Liberian post-war society (as indeed many of them were before the war started – very much challenging the idea that all rebel soldiers came from marginal backgrounds).

Motorbike taxis in downtown Ganta

Motorbike taxis in downtown Ganta

Recently I spent some time in Ganta, Nimba County. I lived in Ganta for six months back in 1998 and it is interesting to note how much change the city has gone through. Ganta is located close to the Guinea border and the main reason for development and relative wealth is clearly border trade. Whilst previous competitors of being Liberia’s second city, Gbarnga and Buchanan have not recovered, Ganta has become a boom city. Ganta is in the old NPFL/Charles Taylor forces heartland and when it fell to LURD rebels (supported by Guinea), in 2003, soldiers and others were quick to organize resistance against the rebels and indeed managed to retake the city. In many Nimbadians’ eyes these soldiers were seen as protectors and liberators thus making it easier for ex-combatants to reintegrate in society when they laid down arms. Ganta is therefore not the typical Liberian setting when it comes to reintegration patterns – but thereby not saying that it is a special case.

The standard narrative amongst former generals is that the people under them still have a lot of expectations. Generals talk about how they are approached by their former soldiers in the streets and asked for money. At times approached with the words “my father”, the generals clearly still feel obliged to help them, but they themselves rarely have more resources than tokens to give them. When walking down the street with two former generals we once in a while meet up with their former soldiers who will typically salute them and then cautiously hang around with the hope that some money will “drop”. But these haphazard connections appear not to be the most common form of post-war relationship. Instead chains of labor and mutual dependency are. A good general is a general who successfully brokers labor opportunities, or who remains ones “boss man” but within civil work – thus handing out a little money now and then is not enough. Preferably good generals have their own business (could also be a rural farm) or a management position which enables them to employ former combatants.

Generals I met during fieldwork in Nimba included several heads of security firms and also security details on plantations and other organizations. They are junior managers on plantations and in mines, immigration officers, owner of private schools and video clubs, university students, a city solicitor at a magistrate court and even a city mayor. Following some of them around, going to their villages and meeting with villagers, visiting people running informal banking institutions, where they are members, and visiting others who knew them as commanders from the war it is quite safe to say that this particular group is rather well-seen and respected in the county. Although seldom amongst the wealthiest many own land, have houses and made farms and smaller plantations. Yet still there are other former generals who are much less involved in formal business and who are still seen as something of a security threat. There are still those who are not satisfied with the outcome of the war and look for new opportunities. Such opportunities will hardly turn up in Liberia at time being, but there have been recent rumors of remobilization in Nimba for activities across the border in Côte d’Ivoire. As most of our work (and others work as well) is concerned with former chain of commands of informal character I try here to focus on the generals who are well integrated in the socio-economic fabric.

Here is a brief list of the trades that we found integrated generals in:

  1. 1.       Security work

The city mayor of Ganta is a former general. Obviously he would not sit and confess how he still has soldiers around him, or how he employs them. However when talking to him he says that he used to run a security firm. Security firms are full of former soldiers. Another general that we interviewed is a former army captain that joined the resistance when Ganta fell. During the war he had established close links to a local business man who has now turned into a politician. Through their old friendship the politician established a security firm that he asked the general to head. Many of the men that work for this man are his former fighters and he states that it is much easier to work with former fighters (especially those who fought under him) than others. In fact another former general that is heading a security detail within a larger company looks at me in disbelief when asking him of the advantages of employing former combatants: they take command, they respect you and you get things done – others are much harder to deal with. In a similar way within the security business there is a preference to employ a former general as the head as he has the respect (or at times people fear him) and he embodies the CoC (Command and Control) from the war years.

  1. 2.       Plantation work

At one of the larger plantations we found that the security structure was not headed by a former general, but there were indeed two within the structure. Furthermore as this plantation started operating again after the end of the war the owner asked a general (actually a person who worked as my research assistant during my Ganta study) to help employ people for both security and laborers. This general was chief of staff during the latter part of the war in the Ganta region and knew who would work well at the plantation but could also keep a nominal control over them even if he was not residing on the plantation. By giving him this opportunity they furthermore secured his loyalty in case there would be renewed conflict or other forms of trouble. At this plantation they have a manager who is a former general. Also here it is an advantage to have someone with CoC knowledge to manage tappers who are otherwise known to be unruly. During the first years after the conflict ex-combatants at the plantation often caused problems but staff at the local court responsible for this area point out that it is now rare that ex-combatants involve themselves in problems. Now it is typically young men – men younger than the ex-combatants.

  1. 3.       Education

During my field research in Ganta in 1998 it was interesting to listen to the various strategies that ex-combatants had for obtaining education. In fact many held the prospect of going to school as a prime factor for joining a rebel faction or militia. Partly commanders promised education, but also many poor youngsters realized that they would never get very far in their education under normal conditions and if the war could offer anything with regards to social mobility it was in the field of education. Saved money did in some cases render education for combatants (as I have shown elsewhere). With this as a historical reference point, by now 15 years ago(!), I find it interesting that so many generals are back in school. In Monrovia we found many former generals on scholarships – typically doing criminal justice. Also amongst the Ganta crowd of generals several were now fighting for university degrees. Clearly they view themselves (and correctly so) as more educated than their soldiers (education often gave a boost upwards in the command structure). This is also the case in the post-war. Not only do former generals invest in their own education, they also invest in education of others. An interesting example is the general who set up a school in Ganta during the Taylor years where he, as he himself readily pointed out, especially catered for ex-combatants. He partly upheld his command structure in peaceful times by giving scholarships to his former soldiers. Today however there are few former combatants left in the school. At the same time he spends most of his time in Monrovia completing his master degree.

  1. 4.       Farming

Except for in urban centers, and then especially Ganta, wage labor is found on large-scale plantations and in the iron mines (an important asset in Nimba). Yet still farming and small-scale plantation is the dominant form of subsistence in the county. Even though former generals prefer to stay in urban settlements they often have close ties to their rural villages (in some cases this is where they are born and in other cases they themselves have never resided there). Quite often they own land or are part of landowning families and as labor structures looks like it is common that they use their former combatants as labor during particularly labor intense periods. When we visit a former general, who is now a city solicitor, in his village, he shows us the large rubber farm he planted in 2005. For him it is pretty clear that he will use his old soldiers when possible, yet he can only do so with the few ones residing in the village. Bringing people in from the outside would add too many additional expenses including transportation, food and lodging costs for the workers.

In this short text I have not included the larger power structure of the county – we will extend on this later. However it is clear from our study how intricately linked former generals are to political figures in the county – this is also a general finding of our larger project. It becomes the more obvious when one takes into consideration the fact that Ganta has a former general as city mayor. Former warlord Prince Johnson, leader of the rebel group INPFL during the first Liberian war, is a senator and the leader of the third largest Liberian political party. Another former general of NPFL Adolphus Dolo, “General Peanut butter”, a Johnson Sirleaf loyalist, served as the junior senator up until the last election. Furthermore several of the wealthiest businessmen in Nimba made much of their wealth during the war, partly under the protection of the generals I have discussed. Nimbadians have partly elected former rebels due to concerns for their own security, or their relative sense of insecurity on the national level, but it is also clear that many generals form an intricate part of the socio-political networks at the county level.

Against the grain of common scholarship there is good reason to see a good number of generals as a stabilizing factor in post-war Nimba, and in Liberia in general. In the positions that I have described above they still have the capacity to command former combatants, but instead of destabilizing Nimba they have in fact aided their former soldiers to reintegrate into formal livelihoods and civilian lives. Conversely it could be argued that if chains of commands would have been successfully broken it would only have further impoverished ex-combatants forcing them to remain on the margins of post-war Liberia in situations where they could more easily be enticed into possible re-deployment into militia groups. The control and trust of these networks is furthermore a factor that makes work more efficient in certain sectors of a recovering Liberian economy. As a general alluded “we are generals for good” pointing to the double meaning of being do-good generals but also the permanence of their current managerial roles in chains of command.

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This year’s Africa Day 25 May is the 50th anniversary of the African Union (AU), former Organisation of African Unity (OAU). NAI researcher Linnéa Gelot comments on the AUs achievements and remaining challenges for the future.

 The OAU was best known for its long and finally victorious decolonization struggle and the often problematic defense of African sovereignty and support for liberation struggle leaders. The OAU was also important in achieving consensus around a set of core principles and norms governing a pan-African political order. These were highly supportive of sovereign equality and non-interference, favoring a so-called ‘traditional’ notion of state sovereignty. The OAU also served as a platform for debate around important alternative African visions of economic development and governance, and the OAU initiated work that has since been built on by the AU: to serve as a vehicle for African states to speak with one voice on issues of common interest to the continent in global forums.

The AU came into existence in 2002 because there was a wide-spread feeling that a new regional political order was needed as African polities and peoples were adapting to a post-Cold War globalized environment. In very brief terms, this can be summarised as the felt need among African leaders and senior policymakers that African states had to coordinate and integrate their initiatives to better respond to external and internal pressures for ‘good governance’, stabilisation, economic growth and democratisation. In this context, the AU institutions can be understood as debating forums where state representatives and AU officials negotiate and contest different proposals of how to best meet contemporary multidimensional challenges.

Many observers have been impressed with the AU’s institutional and policy expressions of pan-African politics. Examples abound in areas of economic development, peace and security, democratic governance, human rights and refugee matters, as well as environmental issues. Most visibly in the area of peace and security, the AU’s initiatives in mediation and peacekeeping have contributed to a sense of hope and optimism for the continent’s transformation. The AU has played a proactive role in the search for the peaceful resolution of conflicts in Africa. It has deployed peacekeeping missions to Burundi, Somalia, Darfur and Mali as well as enabling high level mediation such as the African Union High Level Panel (AUHIP) facilitating dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan on outstanding issues of the post-independence period. It has also been noted that the peace and security organs at least in principle privilege human well-being over state sovereignty (‘human security’ over ‘state security’) which is an important departure from the former OAU. Indeed, the AU Constitutive Act empowers the AU with the right ‘to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances’. In many ways, the AU is increasing its authority and has some far-reaching supranational components to it. These are not widely understood or communicated and there is perhaps a good reason for that. Limitation on sovereign power is a sensitive issue and such change will be a long historical process.

In connection with the AU, many speak of a ‘generational shift’ in regional politics. Differently put, a shift has taken place in norms and acceptable bases for political order in Africa over the last twenty or so years. One example is the trend that more and more governments are coming to power through competitive election in Africa. It has also been noted that the AU’s policy language is rich with a ‘progressive’ terminology such as ‘people-centred’ policies, accountable government, responsible sovereignty, and partnerships and engagement with donors and global governance institutions. This terminology and the foundational AU principles offer political space for AU Secretariat officials and non-state actors to check progress in implementation and argue for enhanced levels of member state compliance with norms and rules. Additionally, the shift in policy as well as practice has contributed to raising the profile of Africa on the world stage.

The AU centers its policies around African citizens and communities but to date the disconnect between high politics in Addis Ababa and the real challenges facing communities all over the continent remains a problem. The AU’s decision to prohibit civil society and non-state actors from participation in the summit flies in the face of its attempts to popularize its mandate and speak for African communities and peoples.’

The AU centers its policies around African citizens and communities but to date the disconnect between high politics in Addis Ababa and the real challenges facing communities all over the continent remains a problem. The AU’s decision to prohibit civil society and non-state actors from participation in the summit flies in the face of its attempts to popularize its mandate and speak for African communities and peoples.’


The AU is facing many challenges and top among them are capacity and capability shortcomings. Most AU institutions are to a significant degree dependent for their continued efficiency on donor funding. Member states pay for less than half of the AU’s budget. The remainder comes from organisations such as the World Bank and the European Union. The AU and its membership need to rapidly improve on implementing and popularizing the many policies and blueprints that it has in place. States have a tendency to express their commitment to policies and instruments but to then take very long before they ratify these. In this context, it was a source of relief to finally see in 2012 the coming into force of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.

In part implementation challenges are also due to a need for reform and capacity-building of the AU Commission and other AU organs.

Other urgent challenges are: the demands for democracy, economic development and transparency from within African nation-states. Civil society, researchers, journalists as well as ordinary citizens are ever more vocal and well-informed. Press and social media provide critical scrutiny despite limitations on press freedom and have access to and influence on a global media arena. The winds of change are picking up speed, and many African leaders experience that action and results now directly impact their ability to hold on to power. And that in the AU today, violent (public) crackdown of popular dissent and opposition is intolerable. Improving the record on governance and human rights will only become more important, so will policy formation and action on youth unemployment, economic development, food security, etc.


Just out! New Discussion Paper!

African political dynamics are undergoing change in the light of the recent ‘Arab Spring’, and the fall of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. A NAI-FOI Discussion Paper has examined the political and security objectives of some of the most powerful AU member states in the current post-Arab Spring setting, ‘The African Unionin Light of the Arab Revolts. An Appraisal of the foreign policy and security objectives of South Africa, Ethiopia and Algeria’, edited by Mikael Eriksson and Linnéa Gelot.

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According to a number of local and international NGO’s, journalists and researchers monitoring the situation on the ground, the large scale investment in Sierra Leone between Addax Onyx Group (AOG) and Swedfund, as well as a range of additional investors, is causing concern. The main concern is that the investment is contributing to poverty, decreased access to basic rights and may increase instability and anger amongst the local population. Swedfund is consistently dismissing the concerns, arguing that the monitoring of the situation is not sufficient and not carried out in detail, hence not trustworthy and does not illustrate the overall situation. Swedfund on their side emphasize that the project is in its start-up phase and therefore it is therefore too early to measure impact. However, those monitoring the situation are many and conclusions based on their monitoring are coherent and consistent and can therefore not be dismissed.

Swedfund is defined as a bilateral Development Finance Institution, it is a development finance institution owned by the Swedish State. In 2011 Swedfund signed an agreement to become equity partner with Addax Onyx Group (AOG), committing EUR 10 million to an investment in Sierra Leone. Sweden contributed to create the largest private sector agriculture investment in Sierra Leone ever made. The purpose: to grow sugarcane and produce ethanol for the European market. The Swedish Government as well as Swedfund is said to be committed to comply with a range of principles for businesses and human rights, to ensure that investments, aid and corporation contributes to ensure respect for human rights.

It is more than a rule than an exception that exposure of the negative impacts on the lives of ordinary people of large scale investments are ignored. In the majority of cases it is the individuals that have  access to the knowledge and the financial capital that are taking the lead in exploitation of natural resources while working for governments and multi-national corporations.

It is not unusual that businesses invest in conflicts and post-conflict affected areas where no or few accountability mechanisms exist and where corruption is the norm. To meet the rising demand for accountability of corporations, principles have been developed by international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank. The idea to ensure that the corporations be held responsible to some kind of reasonable standards in their pursuit of financial capital is good.

Because of the complicated nature of domestic and international law and the way it relate to multi-national corporations, an alternative to strict legal accountability has taken shape in non-binding international standards. These principles are non-enforceable and may in some cases rather hamper accountability and access to justice in countries without proper accountability mechanisms than helping to support them. Investment agreements may pave the way for abuse and violations of human rights but also huge financial gains for international investors and select few of national political and economic elite.

It is the State that has the responsibility to protect its population against human rights abuses by third parties, such as corporations. It is important to distinguish the responsibility of States and corporations. States ratify legally binding conventions, meaning that they have a legal responsibility to respect and protect human rights. Corporations are merely legally bound by the agreement they have entered, be it with a state, another corporation or an individual. Corporations are bound by the domestic laws governing the state where they establish their business. Even if corporations are bound to “respect” human rights, as established in non-binding UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions, this is not, to date, a legal responsibility under international law, rather a moral and ethical responsibility.

A State does not violate its human rights obligations if proper accountability mechanisms, such as laws, policies and procedures for investigations, prosecution in a court of law and effective legal remedies, are implemented and enforced. In cases of human rights abuses committed by corporations, it is the responsibility of the State to prevent, punish and compensate when abuses occur, corporations are not attributed such authority.

It is not unusual that very long term agreements are entered into between States and multi-national corporations. A corporation may declare in an agreement and in its general corporate social responsibility strategy that it intend to apply international non-binding standards such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. A corporation may apply the processes established in these international principles and follow the standards in detail. Yet, the agreement between a State and a corporation may have severe impact on the human rights and lives of large numbers of people unless established domestic standards and mechanisms exists to hold corporations responsible for abuse exist.

When corporations lease large areas of land, people that remain on the land can in the best case scenario agree to limited or no possibility to continue using their land for income and food generating purposes. They might stay on the land without being able to use it or they might leave. They might also be offered to start working for a corporation if such possibilities arise. This often happens under unpredictable and dire working conditions and lack of alternatives to income makes it hard to opt out.

Take the example of the above mentioned private investment in Sierra Leone between Addax Bioenergy and the Government of Sierra Leone. Addax have leased 44 000 hectares of land, equivalent to 26 000 soccer fields from the Government of Sierra Leone. The land lease agreement is valid for a period of 50 years. 92 villages exist on the leased area, which is inhabited by approximately 14 000 people. Around 2000 work opportunities is estimated to have been created the past four years for these 14 000, 4000 were promised so far.  The people living on the land are paid an average of 8 dollars per 1 hectare and family a year.

The overall lease agreement is entered into between Addax and local Chiefdom Councils. The lease sets out how, amongst other issues, the rent of the lease will be distributed between the central government, the chiefdom council, the local district council and amongst ”those adults treated as land owners”, (which means those people inhabiting the leased land). These adults are not legal land owners of the land; since they according to the laws governing Sierra Leone cannot own land. The Chiefdom Council agrees, in the lease, to “use their best endeavors” to ensure that the lease is signed.

The local land owners were also given a document called an ”acknowledgement agreement” in which they by receipt of an annual payment of 1.40 USD per acre of land, to be shared amongst family, acknowledged the validity of the lease agreement between the local authorities and the corporation.

In return the “landowner” agreed not to interfere with the company’s rights under the lease and they acknowledge the company’s rights to use their plot of land. The signing by the “landowner” on behalf of his family consolidates the free, prior and informed consent process, according to the corporation. The lease gives the corporation exclusive possession over villages, rivers, forests etc. that forms a part of the leased land.

If any conflicts arise on the lease they shall be resolved by arbitration in London, hence not by the national judicial system of Sierra Leone. Knowing the costs involved in arbitration, the chances that any local authorities, would contest any clause in the lease by arbitration in London, are extremely slim. If, however, the parties resort to arbitration, the right to appeal is waived by the lease agreement.

Keeping the above in mind, the process establishing the above lease and “acknowledgement agreement” has been in accordance with established principles by the United Nations on business and human rights and IFC standards. A large number of information sessions were held with the inhabitants of the land and the corporation, tons of evaluations and assessments were made by the corporation. The corporation even feels proud to inform that now, contrary to before, the land owners have a paper showing their registered plot of land. Note however the land owners are not the “owners” they are just called “owners”.

It must be stressed that the majority of the inhabitants in the staked out area have very low, if any education, and often they have not travelled further than to the district town Makeni. The majority of the people in the area live beneath the poverty line. This means that they barely have food for the day. When signing, or putting their thumbprint on the acknowledgement agreement, they could not grasp the large scale implications on their behalf that had already been established by their own local authorities. Perhaps they initially felt lucky to sign the acknowledgement agreement, but they received less than two dollars a year per acre for land they had farmed and resided on for generations.

To them, giving up access to their cassava plantations and the use of a plot of land in exchange for the promises of a large scale investment most likely came with the idea of progress towards a better life. In their world, when the notion of jobs, roads, income, food, education and health arise, it is not difficult to sign such a document. However, at the same time they knew that they did not have a choice, on their behalf, the local authorities had already leased the land and, as noted in the lease agreement ”used their best endeavors to ensure that the lease would be signed” and that the corporation be ensured to ”peacefully and quietly” enjoy the land without any interruption.

It is argued that benefits will come with the investment, but despite these, what the land lease agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and Addax really implies is that 14 000 people no longer have rights to use the land, freely access areas to hunt and in some cases access clean water. They do however have access to rice. The corporation has established rice plantations. There are however growing concerns by local NGOs that rice does not sufficiently ensure the nutrition needs of the inhabitants.

Hesitation to sign the acknowledgement agreement might have arisen had the inhabitants of the land had equal access to the information and knowledge to that of the corporation and the Sierra Leonean Government. But for a person living far away from international business know-how; that could indeed be obtained at national universities; it is virtually impossible to strategically understand the financial and long term implications of the agreement.

Perhaps they would have thought twice, questioned or demanded conditions had they had equal access to information. Here the Government of Sierra Leone should have stepped in, protected them and ensured that their human rights were ensued. But they did not. The Government was the party that signed the lease agreement. The basic livelihood of 14 000 citizens were with a signature replaced with much more uncertain futures as temporary laborers at the whims of a large-scale investor with limited socio-economic concerns for the population. Surprisingly those working for the company and investors, such as the Swedish Government appear to have a very hard time understanding why the inhabitants now complain about the establishment of the corporation.

However, without doubt the people did not have access to information about the overall consequences of the agreement. They did not know the implications of the clauses stipulating that Addax Bioenergy do not need pay corporation tax until 2022 and is exempted from paying duty on a number of goods and the overall implication of this on Sierra Leone. What if they knew that international firms shift profits to lower tax jurisdictions cost Africa $38bn (£25bn) a year? According to the Africa progress report 2013 by the Africa Progress Panel chaired by Kofi Annan Africa lose, through such tax loopholes, twice as much as the total gains from all donor funds. Perhaps then they would have hesitated signing? Had it been that Sierra Leone was a country where corruption and abuse of power was not common, had Sierra Leone not been governed by a system of complex local and central power structures, in which high levels of corruption exist, had they known that research indicates that prospects of a better life increase only for those already having a good life when these kind of investments are made, perhaps they would not have signed any agreement.

Perhaps the inhabitants would have questioned the consequences for their country, for themselves and for the coming two generations. Perhaps they would have demanded that any conflicts between Addax and the Government of the lease agreement be settled in a local court where they could access justice, instead of in a court of arbitration in London. What will happen when the illusions of newfound prosperity fades and the 14 000 people start requesting for the indications of a better life they had when they signed the agreement?

Anger against corrupt local leaders was part of fuelling the conflict in Sierra Leone. Thus feelings like those existing before the war may again arise. Increased malnutrition, lack of water and food may create cleavages between local communities and ethnic groups. Signs of anger and protests against the corporation have already occurred. People are starting to question the agreements they signed to lease their land, as they just four years after the deal was closed already see negative consequences. Yet, the corporation, the investors, the Sierra Leone government are justifying the situation by referring to compliance with international principles established for human rights and business. They are doing so correctly. Addax Bioenergy followed many existing principles of corporate social responsibility.

However fairness and equality in access to knowledge and information did not exist. If the Government of Sierra Leone does not represent the people then investing countries like Sweden must step in a take responsibility. It is not justifiable to support investments when accountability systems are not in place, corruption is known to be rampant and human rights violations are not tackled.

The Africa Progress report 2013 released 10 May, indicates that the establishment of corporations may improve the overall financial situation of a country, but not the situation of the poor; instead they rather tend to increase the gap between poor and rich.

According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, countries with weak land governance increases the risk of large-scale land deals turning in to actual “land grabs” where free, prior and informed consent of affected communities is not sought and human rights violations often occur.

Evidence shows that few jobs are created by biofuel-related investments relative to other sectors and where small-scale farming is replaced by large-scale and heavily-mechanized monocultures. Many of the former land users’ end up jobless and landless according to the Special Rapporteur.

The case of Sierra Leone, supported by the Swedish Government’s aid scheme and implemented by Addax bioenergy is justified by compliance with the processes stipulated in the principles for business and human rights as well as by informing about the benefits Addax has given the community. What is not noted by the Swedish Government, the Government of Sierra Leone and Addax is that compliance with international standards for businesses and enterprises, does not exclude responsibility for human rights.

Governments are still obliged to comply with legally binding human rights law. There must be a scrutiny of the ways corporations and donor countries use the principles of human rights. Businesses and Governments in countries with natural resources must be held accountable for allowing investments prone to result in abuses against its populations establish when legal conditions and accountability mechanisms does not exist. And, corporations must take moral and ethical responsibility. Responsibility cannot be avoided by hiding behind processes established in principles of business and human rights.

Tilde Berggren is a human rights lawyer having worked the past eight years with policy development at the United Nations headquarters in New York, including with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Advisor on Gender Issues, with human rights monitoring and reporting in the UN Mission in Sierra Leone and with Civil Rights Defenders in Kosovo and Macedonia.

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Finally I got the chance to see Jens Assur’s photo exhibition Africa is a Great Country at Liljewalchs in Stockholm. There have been a lot of discussions concerning the provocative Africa-is-a-country  title and this has partly overshadowed the content. Is the title ironic or not? Colleagues of mine have already discussed this at NAI Forum. Assur himself states, in his introductory text to the exhibition, that it is meant as an irony directed towards Swedes who still talks about travels to “Africa” – as a monolith – and doesn’t break the continent down into the 50 + countries it contains of. But he doesn’t clarify why he pairs “great” with Africa as a country. Is that also an irony? That is probably not his intention; yet it comes out as a not a very thought through title. Or maybe it is; maybe it has been one of the few ways to lure an audience to an otherwise rather dull exhibition?

Assur worked nine months, and travelled 12 African countries, but still came up with a, perhaps new, but rather one-dimensional picture of Africa (taking dead shots of buildings shouldn’t take that long!). The pictures are huge indeed and made for the audience to loose themselves into, but with few exceptions they work more as elevator music. That they are sized XXL does in a strange way make them even more remote and impersonal, and maybe that is what Assur wants – but why? Is sterility Assur’s idea of modernity; is that the great new Africa he is talking about? In writing he himself states that he doesn’t want to talk about a new Africa – because he does not want to replace one “monochrome” with another. The intention is good but his pictures speak otherwise. One monochrome is in fact replacing another. His updated Africa equals high-rises and airports. Great Africa in Assur’s gaze is infrastructure not people. Africans are disregarded as if they were not part of this great Africa.

The great skyline of the African city. All photos by the author.


Learning about great Africa?


Transient audience


Jesper watching one of the more “living” images. Rice being loaded at the Tema port in Ghana.


Mariam looking at a picture of a petrol station in Sinkor, Monrovia, which she is familiar with. It is one of the few images that spurs further discussions due to the fact that we both do research in Monrovia.

Emerging shoppingscapes

Tourists at Victoria Falls. Detail of picture.

Assur states, on Liljewalchs’ homepage, “we are constantly fed with the image of Africa dying. Now I want to show how Africa lives”. That’s a worthwhile effort, but that is exactly what he does not. Here he fails most. There is not a single picture of how African people live. Instead the pictures are de-peopled and the few people present are tragically faceless. People are looking away, or appear downcast. Are they bowing for the great Africa or just shying away from the “white” man with the camera? Tragically and perhaps tellingly the only person looking into the camera is a Chinese tourist at the Victoria Falls. He is doing the V-sign.

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On the 28th of February this year, an unfortunate incident happened in Garamba National Park, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-affected area in North-Eastern Congo. A group of Congolese soldiers went on patrol, in order to track LRA-elements; while at the same time a group of (armed) park rangers was patrolling the park. In an area where civilians were present, both groups noticed each other, and both groups considered the other group to be the LRA. The shooting between the two groups, left one Congolese soldier and one civilian dead, and three soldiers and one civilian wounded. The following day, the park rangers were actually attacked by the LRA in the same area, but managed to push them away after heavy fighting. A park ranger later died of his injuries.  At least, all of this was the official version of the events, which was communicated by the Congolese soldiers involved.  Reports from local civil society groups and international military actors revealed that the above group of soldiers was poaching in the park: they had killed 2 hippopotamus, and had asked civilians to help them cutting and transporting the animals. The park rangers had noticed them, and fighting erupted, which resulted in the above injuries and killings. In retaliation, the soldiers had attacked the park rangers the next day. They also threatened to attack any park ranger leaving the park, or passing through their area. This tense situation also had a strong effect on civilian life: not only were civilians wounded through the above attacks; civil society actors complained that markets could no longer take place, as civilians feared more violence and attacks by the soldiers, who were blaming civilians for the park rangers’ attacks.

These events are illustrative for life in the LRA-affected area in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the fight against the LRA has led to a strong militarization of the area, of which various armed actors are taking advantage. These are not only Congolese soldiers, but also armed poachers and bandits. All of these actors pose a threat to the security of the civilian population.  This crucial point is neglected by a number of external interventions in the area, which are principally focused on Kony and the LRA. This approach has again been put in the limelight through the recently launched US War Crimes Rewards Programs, which gives awards of up to $ 5 million for evidence leading to the capture of Joseph Kony and the two other top commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The measure is complementary to previous efforts to stop the LRA violence, such as the Kony 2012 campaign, which also had a specific focus on Kony in order to end the conflict.  Both actions explicitly state how they want to end civilian suffering in LRA-affected areas through their actions – Ben Keesey, Invisible Children’s CEO for example explicitly stated in an interview with The Times newspaper, about the Kony 2012 campaign how “The true measure of success for this campaign is if people’s lives are getting better on the ground”.

These Kony- and LRA-driven approaches have two major problems: one, they ignore the complex and multi-faced reality of security threats to people’s lives in LRA-affected areas. The presence of the LRA acted as a catalyzer for these different threats. Some of these threats were already present in this area, but became further empowered through the presence of the LRA. Other threats are inherently related to the fight against the LRA and the militarization of the area. Second, an exclusive focus on ‘hunting’ the LRA obscures these other threats, and makes addressing these more difficult.

The LRA Crisis Tracker is a good example of the limits of this ‘LRA-only’ approach: this tool, developed by Invisible Children and Resolve, collects data on LRA incidents in LRA-affected areas. In analysing the number of LRA attacks, abductions and killings, the Crisis Tracker indeed is a good advocacy tool to highlight the LRA threat – and does a great job in silencing misinformed criticisms that the LRA is no longer active. Yet, the Crisis Tracker in itself presents a flawed image of the security situation, by only focusing on one of the armed threats to the population – the LRA, and not looking at the other threats. The partial nature of these statistics becomes very clear when looking at other data from the area: the ‘protection cluster’ coordinated by the UN refugee agency UNHCR, keeps statistics on ‘protection’ incidents towards civilians in LRA-affected areas in the DRC – these incidents include rape, killing, abduction, looting, and so on. These incidents are collected through international NGOS and local organizations on the ground in the affected areas, and do not only focus on the LRA. In doing so, they show how the lives of civilians are a continuous struggle, in which they are threatened by a variety of armed actors: in 2011, a dramatic 48% of all incidents against civilians were committed by individual Congolese soldiers, while (only) 17% were caused by the LRA. The remaining incidents are caused by bandits (Congolese or South Sudanese), armed poachers (from as far as Libya, Chad or South Sudan) and local authorities (such as the police).

This does mean that the LRA is not an important threat. On the contrary, much of the problems are caused by its presence: many of these armed actors – and particularly the Congolese soldiers – are only present in the area because of the LRA. Although the soldiers’ presence to a certain extent indeed deterred the LRA, the presence of the LRA equally offered a number of opportunities. This sometimes happened in collaboration with civilian actors, but more often, soldiers were preying on the civilian population. Various actors, such as armed bandits and again the Congolese soldiers, have in turn been copying LRA attacks, in order to put the blame on the LRA. In other words, the ‘LRA hunt’ allowed individual armed actors to profit from the situation in various ways – with a strongly negative effect for the population. As shown by local civil society reports, a rather cynical example of this dynamic was the trade in ammunition and weapons by Congolese army actors to the LRA in 2010; something which was found out after two LRA prisoners disclosed how they were receiving supplies from Congolese soldiers.

In their efforts to present a simple and accessible story, the anti-LRA lobby organizations (Invisible Children, Enough, Resolve) neglect an important part of the local security dynamics, and the negative consequences of these for the population. While this ‘LRA only’ view definitely allows to gather funding and attention – as the Kony 2012 video has shown – this view equally leads to a reduced effectiveness in interventions, as they are not equipped to deal with the other threats to people’s lives. Invisible Children’s high-frequency radio’s in LRA-affected areas are a good example of this: these radio’s allow remote communities to seek for help in case of LRA-attacks, and to communicate with other localities. This would have been useful to protect the population from large-scale LRA attacks, such as the 2008 and 2009 Christmas massacres (although it remains unclear how any intervention force could arrive in time). It however is much more difficult to protect the population from the small-scale hit-and-run attacks which the various armed actors in LRA-affected areas are using. And it certainly is much more difficult to protect the population from harassment from individual Congolese soldiers, as it simply is (too) risky for civilians to report on army abuses through these radio posts (as these radio posts are exchanging military information, the armed forces closely monitor them); and as soldiers have on occasions controlled these radio posts. Even when using code language, the operators still fear retaliation. In other words, a particular view on civilian protection in these areas – in which only the LRA is perceived as a threat, not any other groups, and certainly no internal threat – leads to particular interventions, which are ill-equipped to address all suffering, and report all incidents. Given the high rate of incidents with soldiers, this is highly problematic.

Moreover, the ‘LRA only’ narrative  has made it more difficult for humanitarian organizations active in the area to rally support and funding for a more holistic approach on civilian protection, which also addresses these other threats. This ‘messy’ image is much harder to sell to the wider public, and much harder to intervene in: the threat is no longer a clearly definable ‘evil’ outsider, but a multiple threat which consists of both insiders (such as individual Congolese soldiers, local bandits) and outsiders (the LRA, foreign bandits, different groups of poachers). Reducing these internal threats is only possible through addressing the behavior of the government soldiers, and re-establishing the judicial system and the general functioning of the state in these marginalized areas.  However, and particularly in 2011 and 2012, humanitarian actors were complaining that this dominant ‘LRA only’ discourse made it very hard to find donor money for this: all programs had to be defined as LRA, whilst the reality on the ground is much more complicated and messy. Consequently, a number of humanitarian actors were discontent that they had to emphasize the presence of the LRA in their programs, and not the other groups. As a result, a number of programs were implemented which were specifically targeted towards LRA-effects, but – in a situation of strongly reduced LRA attacks – had relatively little results; while the increased attacks and dangers of other actors were not sufficiently addressed.

In sum, the fight against the LRA does not occur in a vacuum: it leads to a range of abuses, which have been made possible through the fight against the LRA, and which are inherently related to the militarization of the region. A strict focus on the LRA in this ‘messy’ security context, and not on how various actors profit from this situation, further empowers these armed actors, and further helps these abuses occur. A second important point is that the protection of civilians equally does not occur in a vacuum. If organisations such as Invisible Children really want to improve the lives of people on the ground – as their CEO pointed out – realities on the ground should not be sacrificed for simple narratives. It is cynical to single out one threat to civilians (the LRA), while neglecting others, which on a daily basis constitute a major threat for the civilian population.

Kristof Titeca is a Postdoctoral Fellow from the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO), based at the Institute of Development and Management (University of Antwerp) and the Conflict Research Group (University of Ghent). This text was originally published on the African Arguments blog http://africanarguments.org/2013/05/17/the-lra-conflict-beyond-the-lra-lobby-the-hunt-for-kony-and-towards-civilian-protection-by-kristof-titeca/

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Even if Northern Mali has been in the hands of armed Salafist forces since spring 2012, it has not yet morphed into another ‘Afghanistan’. The Salafist forces, may have taken the name of al-Qaeda, but they are of a different origin and nature than the one in Afghanistan. The danger is, however, that if the international response to Mali is too heavy-handed, it may create a dynamic that pushes the conflict into a similar pattern like the one in Afghanistan.

On January 11, 2013, French airplanes attacked strongholds of Islamist rebels in the north of Mali. Soon thereafter land troops followed in a quick sweeping raid, clearing most of rebel controlled areas. French forces, assisted by several thousand troops from Chad and Niger, thereby efficiently ended the offensive of Islamist rebels and gained nominal control over the cities of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. This was, however, the easy part.

The Islamists have not completely lost the battle for northern Mali. They still have the capacity to resist and even strike inside towns formally under French control. As France is scaling down its number of troops from 4,000 to 1,000 by the end of the year, controlling this vast territory will prove even more difficult for the remaining French force and the joint ECOWAS/AU mission and the Malian army.

Causes of conflict

The current conflict is not new. Northern Mali is originally the homeland of the Tuareg, a people whose position in the Sahel was turned upside down by French colonialism. The Tuaregs who once controlled the inter-Saharan trade routes and saw themselves as ‘masters of the desert’ suddenly became minorities in several new states, and in Mali in particular, a minority ruled by the population they previously had viewed as inferior and historically had directed slave raids towards.

The Tuareg ‘problem’ is a Gordian knot, and ever since Mali became an independent state, the Tuaregs have recurrently rebelled. The first Tuareg rebellion took place in the early 1960s, the second in the early 1990s, and as the National Pact of 1992 failed to produce tangible results on the ground, a new rebellion emerged in 2006. This was relatively small until armed Tuaregs many of whom had lived in Libya for years started to return to Mali following the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Their arrival gave the rebellion new momentum and yet another Tuareg rebel movement was formed, the Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA). Whereas Tuareg separatism previously had been a facade for other demands concerning power and positions, MNLA declared full independence of Azawad. The issue was no longer increased access to the spoils of the Malian state, but to break away from it.

However, what little that may have existed of Tuareg unity quickly disappeared and as MNLA fighters looted and plundered in the North and as the Malian army ran away, Salafist forces stepped in and effectively side-lined MNLA.

Consequences and responses

The Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) had been preparing for an intervention in Mali since the coup in March 2012, but their timeline was one of extensive consultations. ECOWAS wanted to pursue dual track diplomacy, aiming at bringing the Tuareg Islamist movement Ansar ed-Din into a negotiated settlement to separate them from the non-Malian AQIM and MÙJAO, facilitating a government partner in Bamako with a legitimate roadmap to democracy, and reforming the Malian army. As this is a time-consuming process, the ECOWAS intervention had been pushed forward in time to September 2013, meaning that ECOWAS was not the actor to whom Bamako could turn when Ansar and MUJAO started their south-bound offensive in January 2013.

The gut reaction of Bamako was to call the old colonial master in Paris as the last provider of regime security. With French forces still not in full control of the North there is little reason to believe that at least in the direct aftermath of French withdrawal the African PKO that is supposed to take over will be able to accomplish what the French forces could not.

The challenge facing the international community and the forthcoming African intervention is not only how to gain robust military control, but also how to navigate the political landscape of Mali. ECOWAS had started talks with Ansar in order to try to separate them from AQIM and MUJAO. The question is, however, how possible this diplomatic track is as French forces are on the ground and the crisis is caught-up in the discourse of the ‘war on terror’ following the In Amènas attack (in Algeria). What had up to this point been seen mainly as a Malian issue suddenly became an international concern drawing the attention of the U.S. and others to this area as the new front in the ‘war on terror’.

It may be seen as a positive move that a group – the Islamic Movement of Azawad (IMA) – broke away from Ansar after the In Aménas attack, claiming that they were denouncing terrorism and were ready for dialogue. However, not only, is it uncertain how large this group is, but questions can also be asked concerning the influence of its leader.  Considerable social engineering is therefore needed in order to glue together a Tuareg coalition that can be a credible partner for dialogue with the Malian state and the international community.

This is, however, not only a challenge in North Mali; it is just as much the case in Bamako. The current government is at the very best a caretaker government, fragmented between different civilian and military groups. It lacks legitimacy and credibility and even if a new roadmap concerning the return to democratic rule has sat the date for elections to July 31, 2013, the legitimacy of this process is still questioned by several political groups in the country.

Adding to this is the issue of the Malian army having a problem that ranges much deeper than simply the lack of training and equipment that the EU Mission to Mali (EUTM) suggests. The army suffers from internal fragmentation and the lack of a moral compass to underwrite its military operations. It is unfortunately already clear that the Malian army has conducted several human rights abuses in areas it has recaptured from the rebels and technical training will not prevent this in the future.

This means that right now, France and the international community have taken on board partners in Mali (the government and the army) that lack both legitimacy and implementing capacity. This is a serious problem that must be solved if the international community is to find a sustainable solution to the crisis.

Concerned neighbours

Looking at neighbouring Niger and the role of the Tuaregs there one should note that Niger is not Mali. The Tuaregs are better integrated and so far there is little suggesting that there is any immediate danger that the peace agreement from 2009 between the state and the Niger Justice Movement will fall apart. Contrary to the case of Mali, the Nigerien state was present at the border and disarmed Tuareg returnees from Libya. Niger’s new role as a strategic partner for the U.S. (e.g. as a base for American drones) should strengthen the regime in power, but may also make the country a possible target for attacks from AQIM and MUJAO.

Some of the same could be said about Chad. President Deby himself has clearly enhanced his position as it will be difficult for Western donors to criticise his bad track record on governance and human rights (also in the Central African Republic) after he sent troops to Northern Mali. However, the democratic deficits and bad governance that characterise his rule also means that the Islamist rebels could attempt to use this to launch a new front within Chad. Thus, pointing to the obvious fact that the coalition that has been put together to fight the Islamist rebels contain in its midst partners that could come to constitute a problem later down the road.

The Islamist Boko Haram insuregncy in Northern Nigeria is also of concern in this regard. However, even if Boko Haram may have used Northern Mali and Gao in particular as rear bases, there is still little if any evidence to suggest that Boko Haram is in the process of regionalising its insurgency. Its main focus is still Northern Nigeria and local grievances. Thus, even if the possibility of spill-over effects should be taken seriously they should not be over-rated either. The Sahel is not a warzone of a coherent Islamist rebellion, but still more a situation of different insurgencies with local grievances, yet loosely allied through a combination of ideology and pragmatic self-help concerns.


It is good that African countries will play a leading role in the international intervention as this may provide a platform for solutions that avoids being caught up in ‘war on terror’ rhetoric. However, the composition of the ECOWAS troops that will have to carry much of the burden as France start downscaling has certain drawbacks. Nigeria will be the chief contributor of troops to the PKO. Nigeria’s military leadership qualities has increased since the 1990s, but they will be operating in what for them is an unknown terrain with a climate and topography that they have little if any experience with. This is somewhat balanced by the soldiers from Chad and Niger who has extensive battle experience from this type of terrain. However as these troops has had little exposure to international PKO’s there is a danger that they do not necessarily have the protection of civilians as one of the core objectives.

The experience from previous attempts at peacekeeping interventions in West Africa is also mixed. As the history of such operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone shows they created some level of stability, but they also became a participant not only in the conflict, but also in the conflict economy. Thus, even if the quality of the West African troops that will constitute the core of mission has improved, there is still clearly a danger that some unwanted by-products of peacekeeping as those that came about in Liberia and Sierra Leone will also materialise in the Malian intervention.

Thus, if the international community is not taking great care concerning such by-products there is a risk that we may repeat several of the early mistakes made in Afghanistan that will have the same negative effects on state stability as we currently see in that country.

This text is originally published in the Finnish Journal of Foreign Affairs 2/2013.

Morten Böås is Senior Researcher at Fafo/Ais in Oslo.

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