Ethiopia’s worst bad habit

In a recent article that featured on Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt of Harvard University made the fascinating observation that ‘most (all?) states have some ‘bad habits’ – well-established but questionable practices that remain in place even when the justification for them is no longer apparent (if it ever was)’.

Reading the piece got me into asking what Ethiopia’s worst bad habit is. In the light of the widespread protests and the difficult but necessary political tumult in Ethiopia, this is a question of poignant concern.

Surely, there are several bad habits that many may easily put their fingers on. However, there is one that has always bothered me and occupies a nightmarish presence at the back of my mind and perhaps those of many others: Ethiopia is a country constituted and held together through iron and blood.

With no exaggeration most, if not all, Ethiopians and observers of Ethiopian politics may easily agree that the foremost worst bad habit of Ethiopia is indeed state violence. Historically force is at the heart of the making of the Ethiopian state. If Charles Tilly’s famous line ‘war made the state, and the state made war’ is anything to go by, Ethiopia is not unique in this.

Most notable is the fact that all of Ethiopia’s governments have used it as the main means of maintaining power. It has become so wired into the mindset and institutional tradition of the Ethiopian state. No change of time and conditions has been able to change it.

True, all of the country’s governments drew on other sources of legitimacy as well. The Emperor used religion and the legend of descent from King Solomon along with the modernization initiatives. Even the murderous Derg also tried to use its socialist and Ethiopia First slogans to prop up popular support. For EPRDF apart from its struggle credentials, it has banked its rule on the constitutional affirmation of the equality and self-determination of the diverse ethno-national groups making up the Ethiopian state and state led socio-economic growth.

While the other sources of legitimacy clearly varied with change of government, the use of violence has remained constant across these different governments. The Emperor built a modern security system able to instill fear, imprison and kill those defying and threatening his rule.

Going even farther, the Derg made the establishment of a military and police rule in the country its mission. At the height of its rule, it had the reputation of building the largest army on the continent. It built a notorious (in)security machinery that killed, imprisoned, tortured, disappeared and persecuted any one with opposing views either individually or in an organized platform.

Undeniably a lot has changed under the federal system that the 1995 Constitution put in place. A fair amount of the changes were for the better. Yet, this worst bad habit has not been broken under the EPRDF as well. Whatever improvements made towards democratization did little to dent, let alone undo, the hold of this bad habit. Indeed, the hold of this bad habit has been tightened during the past decade including through securitizing otherwise legitimate political and civic activities with draconian laws such as the press, civil society and anti-terrorism laws.

In the experience and imagination of ordinary people, the one institution that has become an embodiment of the bad habit of rule by brut force in present day Ethiopia is the Federal Police. Just ask any one on the streets of Addis or protestors in the Oromia region. For most, if not all, there is little else that Federal Police represents other than its chilling brutality. Following the small protests in Addis Ababa on 6 August, a minor illustration of this was circulating in various international media outlets showing a Reuters news agency video of federal police kicking and beating protestors with batons and sticks.

Although security institutions are supposed to be non-partisan, it is rightly observed that they ‘have in large part been taken over by political operatives of the incumbent’. The result is that the state’s worst bad habit gets expressed in a partisan way protecting the incumbent and tormenting ‘opponents’.

In its May 2016 edition, the monthly Addis Ababa based English magazine Addis Standard had the infamous Maékelawi as its cover story. Recalling that this was one of Derg’s institutions used for torture, abuse and terror, the sub-title of the story reads ‘Why is Ethiopia still running a “Torture chamber” from the past?’ Despite its notoriety and being a relic of the Derg’s repressive past, it is indeed outrageous that Maékelawi still operates serving as the site of the Ethiopian Federal Police Central Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Even more outrageous is that its past practices are thriving. The same interrogation methods involving life changing physical and psychological suffering during the Derg time are not uncommon today. Apart from the testimonies of those who spent time in Maékelawi for investigation and prosecution, the record of the court files of people held there is replete with accounts of torture and various other abuses.

A further test to find out that this worst bad habit continues in present day Ethiopia is to ask some simple questions. What has happened to opposition political parties, journalists, activists, and bloggers acting, speaking or writing in a manner threatening to EPRDF’s rule? What has happened to protests that erupted in Addis Ababa University at various points in the 1990s and early 2000s? How did EPRDF deal with the 2001 split in the TPLF? What happened in the aftermath of the contested elections of 2005? How about the protests in Oromia and Amhara regions of Ethiopia?

In a widely read article he wrote on the current political situation in Ethiopia, Tsadkan G/Tensai, former chief of staff of the armed forces of Ethiopia, observed regarding the expulsion of some senior members of the TPLF after the 2001 split that ‘those persons were expelled from the party not based on the rules of the party but under duress and using security apparatus’ (emphasis added). Explaining how this was done, he stated that ‘the legislative (sic) was summoned to pass laws designed to detain and keep in prison a few persons perceived by some as threat. Some were thrown to jail even after bail was secured from a court of law.’

With respect to the protests and political upheaval that Ethiopia faced in the aftermath of the 2005 disputed elections, General Tsadkan observed that ‘EPRDF contained the resistance from the opposition by killing hundreds of people and throwing the opposition figures into jail.’ In a report that the US Institute of Peace published in 2007, it stated that ‘[i]t is now confirmed that at least 193 people died and hundreds of others were injured (following the June and November 2005 confrontation between protestors and security forces). By most estimates, tens of thousands were detained, many released without charge after some months, and some charged later with criminal offenses.’

The Dimtsachin Yisema movement involving members of the Muslim community has similarly been responded with a security crack down. Many of its leadership (pardoned on the occasion of Ethiopia’s 2009 new year) were prosecuted with charges of terrorism.

The shooting of protestors carrying no firearms, the killings and maiming and the mass imprisonment of protesting youth have again become evident in the recent protests the engulfed the Oromia and Amhara regional states, the two most popular unites of the Federation that together make up more than 65 per cent of Ethiopia’s close to 100 million people.

In another cover story it featured earlier in the year with a heading ‘Why is Ethiopia killing its people again’, the editorial of Addis Standard observed on the outcome of excessive use of force by security forces in Oromia that ‘[s]ince November 12th 2015, when the first protest broke out in Ginshi, a small town 80km from Addis Ababa, countless households have buried their loved one; young university students have disappeared without trace; hundreds have lost limbs and countless others jailed.’ While government sources indicate a much lower fatality figure, various sources reported that several hundreds lost their lives from the months of protests in Oromia region.

The protests in Amhara region first started in the historic city of Gonder. It resulted from a confrontation following attempts by forces of the anti-terrorism task force to arrest individuals who are members of the Wolkait Amhara Identity Question Committee, a group campaigning for the recognition of the Amhara identity of Wolkait, which in the current federal arrangement forms part of the Tigray region.

When protests were first held in Gondar city at the end of July 2016, it ended without incident. Yet, subsequent protests have turned violent. It was reported that a confrontation that arose between protestors and security forces on 5 August 2016 resulted in death, bodily injury and rounding up of various people. As the protests spread to other parts of the region including the capital Bahir Dar, ‘[t]the city became the scene of unspeakable horror’, William Davidson, one of the foreign journalists covering the situation wrote in a recent article. He went on to say that a ‘peaceful anti-government demonstration there turned violent after a security guard at a government building opened fire on the crowds, provoking an angry backlash from protesters, according to witnesses. Security forces then gunned down dozens of demonstrators, killing at least 30.’

Not surprisingly, the protests in Oromia held on 6 August, which reportedly covered large parts of the region, were responded with no less brutal force than before. In the context of sporadic incidents of chaos during the protests, security forces reportedly shot and killed around 100 and rounded up many more.

There is thus very little to disagree with the view that, ‘[I]t looks like all that the EPRDF government got in its tool boxes to address popular grievances and policy reform demands are only guns and more guns.’

Taking into account its persistence across different governments, one can identify some seven manifestations of Ethiopia’s bad habit. First is the belief or political thought that force is central to governing the Ethiopian people. This belief has for generations defined the relationship between the people and government not in terms of citizen and agent but that of a subject and a ruler. This thinking still lingers on in one way or another.

Second is what John W Whitehead calls a nation of suspects. This is a politics of paranoia manifesting a sheer lack of trust towards members of society, particularly those with no active allegiance to the regime. It also entails the branding of those the government wishes to target as banda or traitor, reactionary or counter-revolutionary, secessionist, terrorists, etc.

A necessary corollary to this and the third manifestation is best captured in the famous line from George Orwell’s book 1984 that ‘big brother is watching you’. People are followed, constantly checked, harassed, intimidated and controlled. The surveillance is so pervasive and intrusive. It uses not only human intelligence but also electronic technologies to monitor and keep record of the movements and speeches of citizens, their phone conversations, their emails and social media activities.

Fourth is the establishment and use of a security institution both as an instrument and symbol of enforcing the regime’s power over the citizenry. As illustrated by Africa’s post-colonial authoritarian governments perverted reliance on colonial laws they fought against, this also involves the maintenance of the institutions and practices of repression of the oppressive old regime. The case of Maékelawi was earlier mentioned as an example.

Fifth is a rule by law. In this context, the government of the day uses draconian laws for clothing its authoritarian rule a façade of legality. A case in point in present day Ethiopia is the anti-terrorism law, which has been used to stifle political opposition and dissent. Reaching obscenely absurd level, it did not even spare bloggers of Zone 9, mostly new young graduates with passion for their country and politics.

Six is the use of the police and military force as a means of handling political contestations. As a hammer treats everything as nail, all manners of political conflicts are viewed as security problems and dealt with security tools.

Seventh is the lack of meaningful legal recourse for citizens against violations. Either no transparent and independent investigation is undertaken or no one is held for violations including killings. Even complaints of torture and other abuses presented to courts in the course of ongoing prosecution receive no sanction.

It was Frantz Fanon who wrote in his famous book Black Skin White Masks ‘[w]e revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breath’. Indubitably, the reasons for the protests in Ethiopia are many. However, it is sure that the country’s worst bad habit is one of the principal reasons.

There are various developments that make the continuation of Ethiopia’s worst bad habit untenable. There is less and less disposition on the part of the public to tolerate or acquiesce into submission to the state’s bad habit. Central to this are the important demographic changes the country has witnessed in recent decades.

Like in other parts of the continent, the young generation makes up the single largest section of the population. The size of the population having literacy and going to school has grown exponentially. Although its pace is not aggressive, the country has also been experiencing a process of urbanization and expansion of the middle class. Additionally, despite all its problems, use of mobile phone and the Internet has brought easy access to information to more and more people across the country.

All in all, today there is a high level of political consciousness and rising demand for democratic and responsive system of governance. All this is very good.

If the recent spate of protests in various parts of the country is to end and Ethiopia stands real possibility of genuine democratization – which is central to its survival, the government should end this age-old worst bad habit. This should start with acknowledging that we indeed have this problem, and it is so grave that we should relieve ourselves of it. More concrete immediate measures that should be taken to this end include ending the resort of security forces to the use of excessive force in dealing with protestors, establishing an independent national commission of inquiry for investigating and reporting on all acts of excessive use of force against unarmed protestors. Similarly, the thousands of people who have been rounded up and being held in detention centers as part of the security crack down should also be released.

In the medium to the long term, transparent rules on the independent regulation of the activities of the security institutions in accordance with the Constitution should be put in place. Additionally, the laws relating to the press, political parties and terrorism should be revisited to put them out of the realm of security and ensure their conformity with the rights in the Constitution and the various international human rights instruments such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to which Ethiopia is a party.

It is also key that those in government and society at large are able to disabuse themselves of the political thinking that force is central to governing the Ethiopian people. This also demands a mind set shift towards a political thought that Ethiopians are to be governed by and on the basis of just laws made in accordance with democratic constitutional principles.

While Professor Walt in his insightful article warns unsurprisingly that ‘breaking a bad habit is not easy’, he is clear that a nation’s bad habit can indeed be broken. Breaking Ethiopia’s worst bad habit is not beyond the realm of the possible and it holds the key for the stability of the country.

The views are my personal views and are in no way attributable to any of the institutions I am associated with


Taking the Ethiopian protests to Rio

Various protests were held in the months since end of 2015. Most were held in three parts of Ethiopia, in Oromia and in recent months in Amhara and Addis Ababa. Such protests were not staged at a world stage in full view of the international media. This was true until Feyisa Lelisa reached the crossing line during the Rio men’s marathon competition.

Well, like previous memorable Olympics, Rio will take a place of honor in Ethiopia’s Olympic history. Unlike other times, this history is not just made by breaking world athletics record only. Indeed, this one will be remembered for the political issues that it highlighted and the attention it drew beyond the track.

This story started to be written by Robel Kiros. His apparently overweight body and slow swimming became a media sensation. One might say like a good friend of mine said that all the talk about the size of his stomach would have elicited little attention if his swimming was good.

Curiously, this was the guy who was given the honor of holding team #Ethiopia flag during the opening ceremony. When asked about it on one of the local FM stations, he said ‘he was asked to carry the flag a mere 15 minutes ago and it was an opportunity that any one could not have refused’ and indeed he grabbed.

He did not care whether he deserved it and whether there were other world class Ethiopian athletes, particularly women, in the team who could have deservedly fly the flag high. Yet, he is less to blame for this than those who lead the team to Rio. Not surprisingly and particularly at this historical juncture when any suspicious event is put to serious political scrutiny, this has been a major subject on the social media.

The issue that this event brought to the fore was whether he was there in the first place deservedly and whether he benefited from the fact that his father is part of the officials of Ethiopia’s Athletic Committee who led the team to Rio. This is the question of favoritism, one of the major factors underlying the current political storm in the country.

As far as adding to Ethiopian record of making athletics history in the competitions was concerned, we were able to hold our heads high thanks to our women. A case in point is Almaz Ayana. She made history for herself and Ethiopia by decimating the Olympic record. Not even some of the racist commentaries attributing her incredible success to doping reduced from the celebration and ray of light that her gold produced for Ethiopia and Africa.

She also put the less known region of Benshangul, from where she hails, at the forefront of the Ethiopian socio-political map. She deservedly received the praise and admiration of many in Ethiopia and across the African continent. Rightly, her success overshadowed the negative publicity that Robel elicited. With her other medal, she gave birth to yet another new record breaking athlete to Ethiopia.

Ethiopia witnessed another history of a different kind in Rio on the last day of the Olympics. Feyisa Lilesa, who won silver in the men’s marathon took the recent protests in Ethiopia to Rio. On two occasions, he displayed the arms-crossed-over-head gesture associated with the more than nine months #Oromoprotest. He first held his hands corssed over his head at the finishing line. He repeated the gesture at a press briefing he gave.

Although widely expected to repeat the act when receiving his medal, he did not however show the sign during that occasion. Perhaps, someone might have reminded him that displaying political signs during can result in him being sanctioned by the OIC, the world athletics body.

Not surprisingly his name and act is trending on social media. It is sure to remain a headline subject of discussion for the days to come. After all, his act not only draws attention to the protests but also puts the government on the spotlight.  When asked about it, he indicated that he did show the sign in solidarity with his people who have been staging protests for a number of months. He also expressed concern about the risks he faced for displaying the protest sign if he were to return home. So whether or not he returns home is not a matter of his will but ability to do so without risking any reprisals.

Without a doubt, it will be a major loss if he is unable to return to Ethiopia. But the uncertainty of his return, like the protests at home, put the ball of the responsibility of guaranteeing his safe return in the court of the government. As with responding to the fundamental issues (facing the country) that the protests have raised, the onus of whether Lelisa is able to return home together with other members of his team is now on the government.  How would it respond to this (to a protest at a world stage in Rio)?  One hopes that it will not be treated as an act against any one but for all of Ethiopia, the peace of the country.



Obama on Lessons’s From the Libya intervention

In a widely read interview in The Atlantic, among the many issues that President Obama addressed was his view on what went wrong in the NATO led intervention in Libya. With respect to the approach taken for undertaking the Libyan intervention, he said ‘We got a UN mandate, we built a coalition, it cost us $1 billion—which, when it comes to military operations, is very cheap. We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict. And despite all that, Libya is a mess.’

Indeed, Libya has disintegrated beyond recognition and today the country endures, arguably, far more destruction and human suffering than what it faced under Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule.

Explaining what went wrong, Obama, rightly, blames Libya’s descent into abyss on the lack of follow up. On this he in particular puts the responsibility on the members of the coalition notably France and the UK. True enough, those countries who took did not envisage their intervention to go beyond and above ending Ghaddafi’s rule. There was no plan or strategy as to what happened after and as a follow up to the military intervention. With Ghaddafi’s removal and the dismantling of his regime, the only entity that held Libya together also disappeared. No unified political movement or agreed transitional framework was emerged to fill the huge political and security vacuum that Ghaddafi’s demise left.

As in Iraq, the lesson from Libya is it is much more easier to remove a regime than bring about a functioning and legitimate replacement. Even more importantly, regime change through external intervention in fragile or long enduring authoritarian countries tends to precipitate the disintegration of the country and can do more harm than good.

From a perspective of the responsibility to protect, the failure of the intervention was not limited to the absence of a plan for post-conflict reconstruction. It also involves at least two other important lessons.

First is the need for limiting the military action to the terms of protecting civilians as specified in the resolution authorizing the action. In implementing the terms of Resolution 1973’s objective of ‘protection of civilians and civilian populated areas’, NATO went further and pursued the objective of overthrowing Ghaddafi. In an open letter dated 15 April 2011, the US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, stated that ‘it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power’. The problem with pursuing regime change was not only that it was contrary to international legality but also, and on that account, results in destructive outcomes that defeat the objectives of protection of civilians as developments in Libya illustrated.

The situation revealed that the UN does not have an effective monitoring and accountability mechanism for ensuring that UNSC resolutions are executed without exceeding the terms and objectives of the resolutions mandating military action.

Second is the need to give diplomatic and/or political processes and hence the voice of all local political forces adequate and genuine chance to lead the effort for resolving the crisis and succeed. NATO countries and their allies were determined to use military means as the only solution to the crisis. They left no room for giving diplomacy a chance. Thus, the opportunities that arose when the Libyan government declared its willingness for ceasefire and negotiated settlement were not adequately explored. Instead, the government’s declarations of ceasefire and willingness for negotiation were dismissed as a deliberate ploy by Ghaddafi to buy time and shield himself from the escalating military assault targeting him and his government. By May 2011, the AU even managed to secure Ghaddafi’s commitment that he would not be part of the negotiation for the formation of a new government and of the government to be formed.

In this regard, Obama’s admission of the failure of NATO’s intervention in Libya vindicates the position that the AU adopted at the time both about exhaustion of the diplomatic avenue and the perils the military campaign posed.

It is not merely the use of military force in the particular setting that made the Libyan intervention, to use the language from The Atlantic, the ‘stupid shit’ that it has turned out to be. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, on account of the fact that the intervention did not give space for diplomatic means of resolving the crisis and breached legality by pursuing an agenda not mandated in the resolution that authorized the intervention.

The new Peace and Security Council of the AU

The election for the new 15 members of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) was held on 28 January at the meeting of the Executive Council of the AU. There were 22 AU member states in the list of candidates (as shown below).

Candidates for the 2016 PSC election (own compilation)

Region Available Seats in the 2016 Election States Running Years Previously Served on the Council
Central Africa 3 Burundi, Cameroon, Gabon,  and Chad Burundi served three times, (2008, 2010 & 2014) and seeking reelection; Gabon served twice previously (2004 & 2007); Cameroon served three times (2004, 2006, 2012); Chad served three times (2008, 2010 & 2014)
Eastern Africa 3 Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda Djibouti served twice previously (2010 & 2012) Kenya served twice (2004 & 2010) Rwanda served three times (2006, 2008 & 2010) Uganda served three times (2006, 2008 & 2013) Sudan served once (2004) Comoros & Eritrea never served on the Council previously
Northern Africa 3 Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania & Tunisia Algeria served three times (2004, 2007 & 2013) Egypt served two times (2006 & 2012) Mauritania served once (2010) & Tunisia served once
Southern Africa 3 Botswana, Swaziland & Zambia Botswana served once (2006) Swaziland served once (2008) & Zambia served once (2008).
Western Africa 4 Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria & Togo Nigeria served four times (2004, 2007, 2010 & 2013) Niger served once (2014) Togo served once (2004) & Sierra Leone never served previously.

Few days before the election Cameroon left the election in favor of Congo. Similarly, Swaziland and South Africa swapped the former’s candidacy. It is not common for the Southern Africa region, which has the distinction of following the principle of rotation strictly, to have a current member to stand for re-election. Just before election started on 28 January, Tunisia withdrew its candidacy. At the time of the election the list of candidates was as follows.

Region Candidates in January 2016
Central Africa Burundi, Chad, Congo and Gabon
Eastern Africa Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda
Northern Africa Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania
Southern Africa Botswana, South Africa & Zambia
Western Africa Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria & Togo

The countries that specified their candidacy for the three-year seat of the Council were Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Egypt, Nigeria and Zambia. According to the modalities of the Election of the PSC, if these countries do not receive the two-third majority vote required for their election they will automatically lose their candidacy altogether and will not thus stand in the elections for the two-year term membership of the PSC.

While Egypt, Nigeria and Zambia had no other country from their respective regions running for the three-year term membership of the Council, Gabon and Djibouti faced competition from other states in their region. Gabon was running against Congo and lost the election by 15 votes against Congo’s 34 votes and run out of the entire competition. Similarly, Djibouti competed for the three-year term membership of the PSC against almost all candidates from East Africa except the Comoros. After several rounds of voting it lost the election for Kenya, which received 45 votes in the last round of votes for the three-year term membership in the PSC.

Zambia, running as the only candidate for Southern Africa, was elected with 100 per cent vote for the three-year term membership in the PSC. Running as the only candidate from North Africa, Egypt was also elected by 47 votes. Similarly, Nigeria won the election receiving 49 votes.

PSC members elected for 3-year term in January 2016 

Region Elected in January 2016
Central Africa Congo
Eastern Africa Kenya
Northern Africa Egypt
Southern Africa Zambia
Western Africa Nigeria

The list of countries that run for the two-year membership in the PSC are as follows.

Region Available Seats in the 2016 Election States Running
Central Africa 2 Burundi and Chad
Eastern Africa 2 Comoros, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda
Northern Africa 1 Algeria and Mauritania
Southern Africa 2 Botswana and South Africa
Western Africa 3 Sierra Leone, Niger & Togo

In the election for the two seats slotted for Central Africa region, since Gabon went out of the election after losing the competition for the three-year term membership, Burundi and Chad became the only candidates from the region. Both countries received the required two-third majority vote (Burundi 38 and Chad 48) and duly elected to the PSC.

In the election for the two seats available for East Africa, after several round of votes Rwanda received the required majority to win one of the two seats. After another several round of votes in which the candidates with the least votes were eliminated, Uganda secured the required majority to win the remaining one seat.

For the two seats allotted for Northern Africa, Algeria received the required majority vote in the first round. Mauritania lost the competition by 13 votes against Algeria’s 39.

Since there were only two candidates for the two seats slotted for Southern Africa, both Botswana and South Africa received 48 and 49 votes respectively to win the election for the two-year membership in the PSC. Similarly, the three countries that were running for the three seats available for the West Africa region namely Sierra Leone, Niger and Togo also obtained 49, 47 and 48 votes respectively to win the election and join the PSC for two-year term.

PSC members elected for 2-year term in January 2016

Region Elected in January 2016
Central Africa Burundi and Chad
Eastern Africa Rwanda and Uganda
Northern Africa Algeria
Southern Africa Botswana and South Africa
Western Africa Sierra Leone, Niger & Togo

The result of the 2016 election of the 15 members of the PSC shows that four of the so-called ‘big five’ member states of the AU, who contribute 15 percent each to AU funds, are in the PSC. Six of the 15 countries, namely Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda are returning members of the PSC and this guarantees some level of continuity from the PSC whose term ends at the end of March 2016.

The new members of the PSC such as Egypt, Kenya & Rwanda are also expected to bring new dynamics as well. Sierra Leone is the only new member that makes it to the PSC for the very first time and thereby increasing the number of states that have so far served on the PSC to 38.

It also became clear from this election that the practice of paying no attention to the requirements of Article 5(2) of the PSC Protocol in the election of PSC members has become persistent. This provision stipulates that one of the criteria for membership in the PSC is ‘respect for constitutional governance, in accordance with the Lome Declaration, as well as the rule of law and human rights’. Like previous elections, several countries, on whose unsatisfactory human rights record the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) lamented in its report to the PRC and the Executive Council, continue to be elected to the PSC.

Until such time that PSC Protocol Article 5(2) requirements are made to trump Article 5(1) requirements of regional representation and rotation, it is completely unlikely that this anomaly in the election of PSC members would be overcome. The nature of its composition did not stop the PSC from acting against its own members (suspended Mali in 2012 for unconstitutional change of government) or having them on its agenda (such as Mali, Libya & since last year Burundi). Yet, in the year that is dedicated to human rights, it is unacceptable that this practice is allowed to continue. It is thus imperative that a AU score card of AU member states human rights performance is introduced as a basis for operaitonalizing the PSC Protocol Article 5(2)    requirements in the election of PSC members with the result of countries scoring less than 5 out of 10 being disqualified from running for membership in the PSC.





The 2016 Election of the AU Peace and Security Council

2016 is African Union’s year of elections. The election of the entire leadership of the AU Commission including the Chairperson is due during the June 2016 summit of the AU. A ministerial committee the elections submits its report on the modalities for the election during the ongoing meeting of the Executive Council of the AU.

The election that is of immediate interest concerns the members of the Peace and Security Council of the AU, the highest decision-making body of the AU on matters of peace and security. While in 2015 there were no seats for election, all the 15 seats of the PSC are due for election in 2016. This is the second time since the PSC came into operation in 2004 that all the 15 seats of the PSC are up for grabs.

It is at the end of March 2016 that the tenure of the current members of the PSC (see Table 1 below) will come to an end.

Table 1 PSC members whose two-year term ends in March 2016 (author’s data)

Region States
Central Africa Burundi, Chad & Equatorial Guinea
East Africa Ethiopia, Tanzania & Uganda
North Africa Algeria & Libya
Southern Africa Mozambique, Namibia & South Africa
West Africa Guinea, Niger, Nigeria & the Gambia

The procedures for the election of members of the PSC are set out in the Protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council of the AU (PSC Protocol) and the Modalities for Election of PSC Members. Most notably, Article 5 (1) of the PSC Protocol states that the Council’s membership is to be decided according to the principle of ‘equitable regional representation and rotation’. In terms of regional representation, while East Africa, Southern Africa and Central Africa are allocated three seats each, West Africa and North Africa are allocated four and two seats respectively.

Following the submissions from member states expressing interest for election to the PSC, the list of candidates for 2016 elections are as reflected in the table below.

Candidates for the 2016 PSC election (author’s data) 

Region Available Seats in the 2016 Election States Running Years Previously Served on the Council
Central Africa 3 Burundi, Gabon, Congo and Chad Burundi served three times, (2008, 2010 & 2014) and seeking reelection; Gabon served twice previously (2004 & 2007); Congo served three times (2004, 2006, 2012); Chad served three times (2008, 2010 & 2014)
Eastern Africa 3 Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda Djibouti served twice previously (2010 & 2012) Kenya served twice (2004 & 2010) Rwanda served three times (2006, 2008 & 2010) Uganda served three times (2006, 2008 & 2013) Sudan served ones (2004) Comoros & Eritrea never served on the Council previously
Northern Africa 3 Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania Algeria served three times (2004, 2007 & 2013) Egypt served two times (2006 & 2012) Mauritania served ones (2010)
Southern Africa 3 Botswana, Swaziland & Zambia Botswana served ones (2006) Swaziland served ones (2008) & Zambia served ones (2008).
Western Africa 4 Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria & Togo Nigeria served four times (2004, 2007, 2010 & 2013) Niger served ones (2014) Togo served ones (2004) & Sierra Leone never served previously.

Only two of the five regions Southern and West Africa submitted number of candidates equal to the number of seats available to those regions. As it has been the case in previous elections, East Africa submitted much higher number of candidates (seven) than the number of seats available for the region.

From Central Africa region, Cameroon was a candidate in the original list that came from the region but withdrew its candidacy in favor of the Republic of Congo before the start of the Executive Council session. But the region has one candidate in excess of the number of seats available to it. In North Africa, although Tunisia was among the candidates in the original list of candidates it seems to have abandoned its candidacy. Yet, it remains to have one candidate more than the two seats allocated to that region.

From West Africa, Nigeria has become a de facto permanent member of the PSC that continued to retain the three year term of office in the PSC since PSC inauguration in 2004. It is sure to be back in the PSC.

In the application for candidacy, a new trend of specifying the term of office of the seat for which candidates vie has been witnessed. Accordingly, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Nigeria and Zambia expressed their interest to run for the three-year term.   Similarly Burundi, Chad and Comoros indicated their wish to vie for two-year term. All the other candidates did not make any indications.





Africa’s new arena of contestation for democratic change

From Burundi to Congo and Rwanda, one of the major stories that triggered the most debate and attracted headline news in 2015 has been the debate over presidential third terms.

Indeed, leaders attempts at overstaying their constitutional welcome (Burundi) or effecting contested constitutional amendments (Congo) has become a new realm of contestation for democratic consolidation on the continent.

Elections as norm

Granted, the era of military rule and one-party regimes has been replaced by the new era of multi-party democratic dispensation that started in the 1990s. Today, there is almost no African country that does not profess to a multi-party political system. Indeed, elections have become a common feature of the political landscape of the continent. In 2016 alone, at least 17 countries have scheduled presidential polls.

Despite routine elections, some ten African countries did not witness change of leadership for nearly three decades or more. The trend indeed shows that elections fail to effect regular change of leadership. The kinds of electoral change of leadership witnessed in 2015 in Nigeria and Tanzania are the exception rather than the rule.

It is against the background of the inadequacy of elections for effecting leadership change that constitutional guarantees for change of leadership, most notably presidential terms limits, have emerged to be the new arena of political contestation on the continent.

Africa’s enthusiastic embrace of constitutional limits on presidential terms

Where it is observed, presidential term limit not only enables competitive politics by restricting the advantages of incumbency but also facilitates change of leadership, affording the society the infusion of new thinking and new blood in the management of the affairs of the country. It was no wonder that as part of the wave of democratic constitutional change of the 1990s, the constitutions of 33 African states incorporated constitutional clauses limiting presidential tenure to two terms.

The operationalization of these limits has indeed facilitated changes. In this regard, Issaka Souré pointed out that ‘there is an empirically proven correlation between presidential term limits and leadership alternation in Africa, given that almost all the African leaders that have left power after elections have done so after ‘exhausting’ all their constitutional terms except in eight cases.’

Over the years the constitutional objectives that presidential term limit is meant to serve have become under immense pressure. Two related trends have thus emerged in this regard.

The steady retreat from presidential term limits – the source of contestation

The first trend relates to the rising number of countries seeking the removal or amendment of constitutional clauses limiting presidential tenure to two terms. Indeed, the number of countries whose constitutions contain presidential term limits has shown steady decline from what it was in the early 1990s. That number is now less by about half a dozen countries.

Together with the successful removal of constitutional limits on presidential terms in Congo and Rwanda in 2015, the record so far, as reflected in the table below, shows that there have been 16 attempts at changing or removing constitutional term limits. This is in addition to Senegal (2012) and Burundi (2015) where incumbent presidents used legal lacuna in their respective constitutions to run a hugely contested third term.

Table 1. Countries where proposed amendments for removing or extending terms limits were made

State Year amendment proposed Outcome
Algeria 2008 Successful
Cameroon 2008 Successful
Chad 2004 Successful
Congo 2015 Successful
Djibouti 2010 Successful
Gabon 2003 Successful
Guinea 2001 Successful
Malawi 2003 Unsuccessful
Namibia 1998 Successful
Niger 2010 Unsuccessful
Nigeria 2006 Unsuccessful
Togo 2002 Successful
Tunisia 2002 Successful
Uganda 2005 Successful
Burkina Faso 2014 Unsuccessful
Rwanda 2015 Successful
Zambia 2001 Unsuccessful

It is interesting to note that the number of countries that succeeded in changing or removing constitutional limits on presidential terms is significantly higher than those in which attempts for such change did not succeed. Only in five of the 16 countries that attempts at changing constitutional term limits failed.

Additionally, irrespective of the success rate, recent changes in Rwanda and Republic of Congo and on going debates in DRC illustrate that there is continuing trend of seeking to remove or change constitutional provisions on term limits. Pending proposals in Algeria and Liberia for introducing term limits are not as common as the trends for removing such limits.

It is this successful retreat from term limits and the resultant loss of opportunity it presents for democratic change of leadership that sets the context for Africa’s new political phenomenon of contestation over constitutional limits over presidential term of office.

Violent contestation of the push of incumbents for third term

The second trend is that increasingly attempts at extending (or removing) term limits are being contested violently. While earlier cases include Niger (2010) and Senegal (2012), the most recent such trend started in Burkina Faso. In October 2014, Burkina Faso’s long term dictator Blaise Compaore’s political manoeuvring of using parliament to remove the constitutional limit on the president’s term set off a successful popular protest that not only forced him into exile but also plunged the country into volatile constitutional crisis.

In Burundi, the ruling party’s announcement in April 2015 electing President Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate, amid strong opposition contesting the constitutionality of his candidacy, has been received with protests in Bujumbura and some other parts of the country. The country has since been in political turmoil that has put the stability that the country enjoyed since the end of the civil war at  serious peril.

The situation in Burundi is strikingly similar to the third term controversy in Senegal in 2012. As in Burundi, Senegal’s President Abdoulay Wade insisted that he did not serve the two terms stipulated in the constitution arguing that the provision limiting term limits was not applicable to his first term. Again as in Burundi, President Wade sought legal interpretation from the Constitutional Court and the Court supported him. Where as President Wade was eventually defeated by the electorate at the ballot box, in Burundi elections (boycotted by the opposition) were held and the President secured a third term. Unlike in Senegal where the elections brought the political instability over President Wade’s third term campaign to an end, in Burundi the crisis has since the elections deepened further.

In 2015 two other countries namely Congo and Rwanda engaged in amending their respective constitution removing term limits. In Rwanda, although it did not set off the kind of instability observed in other countries, the constitutional referendum that removed the two term limit on presidential tenure with little opposition will extend the power of incumbent President Paul Kagame.

Despite having been at the helm of the country for three decades, in September 2015 President Sassou Nguesso of Congo announced a constitutional referendum over proposed amendments to the constitution. The proposal involved amending the constitution to remove the 70 year age limit on presidential candidates as well as the two term limit the head of state can serve.

Although the country did not witness the level of violence that afflicts Burundi, the protest that the opposition and civil society groups mobilized meant that October 2015 became one of the most violent months in the country since 2002. Between four to 20 people are said to have lost their lives in the violence.

The riots and protests that affected the two largest cities of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire did not however change the outcome of the referendum. Both proposed changes were approved in the referendum held on 25 October 2015, although the opposition and civil society challenge the legitimacy of the referendum.

With incumbents continuing to win elections, the issue of third term is sure to attract continuing contestation in the years to come. In 2016, Democratic Republic of Congo is poised to be the next battleground in Africa’s new arena of contestation for democratic consolidation and constitutional rule. The contestation is sure to be violent. All eyes are on the African Union (AU) and the international community to see if they will act on the early warnings emerging from DRC and the lessons from other recent contestations and take successful preventive action preventing DRC’s descent into violent instability.

Urgency of peace talks high despite plan for deploying troops


, ,

The decision of the Peace and Security Council, African Union’s standing decision making body on peace and security matters, to deploy troops to Burundi for human protection purposes even against the consent of the government in Bujumbura has been received with understandable enthusiasm.

It is seen as a bold act manifesting the determination of the continental body and its leadership to live up to AU’s ideals of non-indifference in the face of grave situations threatening the lives of people and ‘African solutions to African problems’. Even those who criticised the AU for not doing enough and limiting itself to issuing statements were quick to endorse and celebrate it.

As historic as the significance of this decision is to the AU and those of us who worked and followed up the AU peace and security decision-making for years, deployment of troops is not a panacea to the crisis in Burundi either. Indeed, the nature of the deteriorating situation involving what the fact-finding mission of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called ‘escalating violence and violations of human rights’ cannot wait the arrival of troops in Burundi even with the consent of the government. In any case, Burundi’s remain to be a political crisis that principally requires political solutions with troops playing only a supporting and protective role.

Decision to intervene by force

Following the meeting its held on Burundi on Thursday 17 December during which Burundi gave up its position of chairing the Council, the Peace and Security Council adopted the decision of authorising the deployment of an African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU). The mission is envisaged to have an initial capacity of 5500 military, police and civilian personnel.

The decision gave the government of Burundi 96 hours for expressing its consent for the deployment of MAPROBU. In the event of non-acceptance of the deployment of MAPROBU, the Council plans ‘to recommend to the Assembly of the Union … the implementation of article 4 (h) of the Constitutive Act relating to intervention in a Member State in certain serious circumstances.’ This represents a decision by the AU that it will deploy MAPROBU even against the consent of the authorities in Bujumbura by using force.


Article 4 (h) stipulates the right of the AU to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.’ There have been many crises in Africa including most recently in Central African Republic and South Sudan exhibiting the occurrence or threat of occurrence of one or combination of the grave circumstances. Yet, Article 4(h) has never before been invoked in any of these previous cases. While there have been instances in which reference was made to the language of Article 4(h), the decision on Burundi marks the first direct use of Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act for undertaking military intervention for human protection purposes.

If implemented against the consent of Burundi’s government, this decision will be historic and marks a departure from the scope of conflict management and resolution tools that have so far been used by the AU. But as Paul Williams explained, this will not be an easy decision to implement.

A number of factors account for this unprecedented decision.

One such factor is the events of Friday 11 December 2015. Following attacks on military establishments, Bujumbura witnessed its most intense fighting and deadliest response since the beginning of the crisis in April 2015. In the words of the PSC communiqué, ‘there is a real risk of the situation degenerating into widespread violence, with catastrophic consequences for Burundi and the entire region’.

Another factor is the reports that AU received about the escalation of violence and acts of violations of human rights. In this regard, as Paul Williams noted, the information from ‘the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ fact-finding mission, which visited Burundi from December 7-13, and the AU’s own human rights observers deployed in Bujumbura’ must also have played a major part.’

The slow pace of the mediation process in a context in which the situation is considered to be deteriorating must have also informed the decision for resorting to deploying troops. The mediation process, despite being around for some times, has not taken off the ground and no peace talks have so far been held.

Unlike troop deployment, peace talks can and should be convened immediately

As discussed by Paul Williams, even if the Burundi government obliges to AU’s request and gives its consent to the deployment of MAPROBU, it will take a minimum of several weeks if not a few months before MAPROBU troops will be on the ground. Apart from the logistical and financial challenges that often slow down deployment by AU, a number of actions have to be taken by the AU Commission. The first of this anticipated and called for in the decision, is generating the required forces. The other is drawing up and adopting the required technical and legal instruments including the concept of operations and the status of force agreement with the government in Bujumbura, if the latter consents.

Even in this best-case scenario, it is clear that there is a need for taking steps and preventing further violence in Burundi pending the actual deployment of MAPROBU. Ensuring that the situation does not deteriorate further in the meantime necessitate that the convening of peace talks is prioritized and urgently pursued.

But indications so far suggest that the authorities in Bujumbura are not consenting to the deployment of troops. While they have not responded officially as yet, Burundi authorities  reported to have said that they neither allow nor need ‘foreign troops’.

The result of Burundi’s refusal is that it will effectively put the operationalization of the decision for deployment of troops on hold. This decision can thus now be enforced only after Article 4(h) decision of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the supreme decision making body of the AU made up of all leaders of AU member states. Unless an extraordinary summit of the Assembly is convened following the receipt by the AU of formal response from Burundi refusing deployment of troops, the earliest that the Assembly will convene is at the end of January.

Even with the best-case scenario of the AU assembly agreeing to the recommendation of the PSC for the Assembly to exercise its Article 4(h) authority, the use of force even under such circumstances raises fundamental legal questions. Most notably, in the light of the fact that the AU requested the UN to fund the deployment of the troops through the use of assessed contributions, it is not only legally necessary (due to the requirements of Articles 53 (1) of the UN Charter) but also financially imperative that the decision of the AU receives UN Security Council’s stamp of approval. Apart from the fact that such approval is not fully guaranteed, the process of getting such approval will in itself take sometime and can only come fast enough if the situation on the ground deteriorates further.

Given that intervention by the use of force would require much more planning, it will also take much longer time for undertaking the intervention than the time required for deploying troops with consent.

Clearly, the decision of the AU for deploying troops and the diplomatic attention it is likely to attract should not detract the attention of the AU, the region and the international community from mobilising efforts and prioritising the implementation of other policy actions that can and should be implemented immediately to stem further violence.

The first and important immediate step is the urgent convening of peace talks. Every day that passes by without talks starting creates vacuum that allows opportunity for the situation to deteriorate.

Similarly, pending the deployment of the troops, with or without consent, there is urgent need for scaling up human rights and military monitoring. In this regard, one agrees with the statement of South Africa on need for urgent strengthening of the size and operational capacity of AU military experts and human rights observers already on the ground.

Remembering the lesson from Libya

It is to be recalled that the intervention in Libya had the same motivation as AU’s proposed intervention in Burundi. Like the intervention in Libya, the principal motivation of AU’s proposed intervention is protection of civilians. This can be gathered not only from the reference to Article 4 (h) of the Constitutive Act but also from the name of the proposed intervention mission, African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU). Indeed, the mandate that the decision establishing the mission assigned to the mission includes prevention of ‘any deterioration of the security situation, monitor its evolution and report developments on the ground’ and ‘contribution, within its capacity and in its areas of deployment, to the protection of civilian populations under imminent threat.’

One of the major failures of the Libya intervention was that other than the objective of averting the threat of atrocities there was no effective political strategy as to what happens after that objective was achieved. This omission has led to a political vacuum and Libya’s unfortunate descent into chaos. The lesson of this experience for Burundi is that the intervention has to be anchored on and form part of an effective political roadmap that can pull Burundi from its worst crisis since the end of the civil war.

There is no political roadmap for resolving the crisis in Burundi. Such a roadmap can only be drawn through peace talks. Thus, if the intervention was to go ahead and succeed, its success will not be complete without a political roadmap that resolves what remains to be a political crisis.

A lot of time has been spent to get the mediation process off the ground. To date, no peace talks have been convened under the mediation process. The result has been a vacuum that allowed the crisis to fester and be left to fate and the good will of the conflicting parties. As the tragic events of Friday 11 December unambiguously showed, without starting peace talks the crisis is sure to deteriorate to the point of spiralling out of control. The focus and energy of the AU, regional and international actors should thus be on the convening of peace talks as a matter of urgency and priority. The decision for deploying troops should not thus detract any attention from having the peace talks on motion immediately.

Reading the Report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS)


Finally, 10 months after AUCISS completed its investigations and seven months after it initially tabled one of its reports, the time has arrived to make the AUCISS report public. At a summit level meeting held in New York on 26 September 2015, on the sidelines of the 70th meeting of the UN General Assembly, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) answered the call from civil society organizations and AU partners for the release of the AUCISS report.

There are actually two reports. The ‘main’ report, which was prepared under the leadership of the Chairperson of the AUCISS, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, is 304-pages long (excluding annexes). Professor Mahmood Mamdani, one of the members of the AUCISS, singlehandedly authored the other report, also described as the dissenting report. The AU Commission submitted to the PSC and the PSC considered and decided to release ‘for public information purposes only’ both the ‘Final Report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan’ (Final AUCISS Report) and ‘A Separate Opinion’.

The two documents were released on 27 October 2015, a month after the PSC took decision for their release. The press statement announcing the release of the documents indicated that the documents are meant for ‘public information’ purposes and hence suggesting that may not be used as evidence for legal action.

As outlined in the PSC decision of 30th December 2013, the mandate of the AUCISS was to ‘investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan and make recommendations on the best way and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities’. While it is clear from these terms that the mandate of the AUCISS involves two broad parts of investigation and proposing recommendations, the two components of the mandate of the AUCISS were further elaborated in the Terms of Reference (ToRs) that the AUCISS adopted following its establishment on 7 March 2014.

The first component of the mandate of the AUCISS is elaborated in the ToRs to include: the establishment of the immediate and remote causes of the conflict; investigate human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict; establish facts and circumstances that may led to and that amount to such violations and of any crimes that may have been perpetrated; compile information based on these investigations and in so doing assist in identifying perpetrators of such violations and abuses with a view to ensuring accountability; and compile information on institutions and processes or lack thereof that may have added or aggravated the conflict resulting in violations of human rights and other abuses.

The second component of the mandate was elaborated in the TORs to involve the submission of recommendations on: appropriate mechanisms to prevent a recurrence of the conflict; mechanisms to promote national healing and cohesiveness; modalities for nation-building, specifically focused on building democratic institutions and post-conflict reconstruction; and accountability mechanisms for gross violations of human rights and other egregious abuses to ensure that those responsible for such violations are held to account.

The report (as well as the separate opinion) makes a heart wrenching reading. The main AUCISS report contains incidents of excessive brutality not only gruesome details but also in pictures mirroring haunting images. Even so, the report as well as the separate opinion has understandably captured only a portion of the events that constitute the civil war and the violations it inflicted the entire affected population. Indeed, the main AUCISS report indicates that the number of the dead remains unknown.

The broader historical and institutional roots of the conflict

The final AUCISS report traces the antecedents of the armed conflict that broke out in South Sudan in mid December 2013 to divisions, infighting and violations that emerged among Southern political and armed forces in the course of the North-South civil wars, most notably in the context of the second North-South civil war that broke out in 1983. As the report put it, the dissolution of the regional assembly of Southern Sudan and the division of ‘the South into three administratively weak regions – Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal … effectively introduced a new dynamic to the war in Sudan: it also became a South-South conflict, which the successive regimes in Khartoum would encourage and exploit from then on, beginning with the Anyanya II – SPLM/A divide in the mid 80s.’ The report stated that while the ‘1983 insurgency’ at the initial years involved ‘five disparate formations’, they coalesce to form the SPLM/A under John Garang which, after weathering further storms, emerged to be the dominant rebel force.

According to the AUCISS report the original sin, so to speak, that led to South Sudan’s eventual fall to disaster in 2013 was the 1991 SPLM/A split, which, in the words of the AUCISS, ‘stand out as defining moment in the life of the movement’. The AUCISS found that the instability, violations and animosity that the 1991 split precipitated was not properly investigated and dealt with. This suggests that the events of 1991 laid the seeds of the current violence. Indeed the AUCISS concluded that ‘[f]rom our consultations with South Sudanese, it emerged that events surrounding the split in 1991 continue to define and order relations within the movement.’ Accordingly, as far as truth, reconciliation and healing is concerned, the Commission suggests the need for confronting what it called ‘the ghosts of 1991’.

The AUCISS report also attributed a significant amount of blame on the design and (problematic) implementation of the CPA as a major factor that contributed to South Sudan’s eventual descent into the civil war.

‘The Commission takes the view’, reads the report, ‘that the current conflict can be attributed, in part, to the flaws of the CPA (in terms of process and outcomes) as well as its implementation. Most notably, the Commission blames, in one notable line, the inevitability of the eruption of the conflict on the failure of the CPA to address longstanding South-South grievances and problems. Related to this was also the SPLM/A monopolization of the peace process to the exclusion of other South Sudanese actors.

The separate opinion brought out other legacies of the CPA that created the conditions for the eventual eruption of South Sudan. ‘[T]he Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), held the opinion, ‘was responsible for setting up an unchallenged armed power in South Sudan, and thereby legitimizing both anyone holding a gun and the rule of the gun.’ It further states that ‘[t]he CPA introduced an armed power into South Sudan, but not a civil service. Ministries were occupied rather than run by generals and their relatives.’

The broader institutional framework of the South Sudan state that facilitated the eruption of conflict has been interrogated in great depth in the main AUCISS report. ‘It is widely accepted’, according to the AUCISS, ‘that the crisis in South Sudan is primarily attributable to the inability of relevant institutions to mediate and manage conflicts, which spilt out into the army, and subsequently the general population.’ The AUCISS thus interrogated the various dysfunctions afflicting the institutions constituting the South Sudan state (the system of government, the executive, the legislative, judiciary, army, political parties, the media and civil society) leading to their failure to detect and peacefully resolve the issues that precipitated the violence.

According to the report what obtained in South Sudan was something akin to an all too powerful imperial presidency. It thus established that ‘the President has extraordinarily wide and apparently all-pervading powers, with very limited checks and balances in place.’ (para. 159) Apart from the problems it identified in their constitution and functioning, the structural causes that this extensive review established included the lack of accountability and authoritarianism, rampant corruption and the militarization politics and the ethnicization of politics and the security establishment that operated as an amalgam of disparate militias answerable to various political figures.

The separate opinion of Prof Mamdani took a much stronger view on the state of the institutional setup of South Sudan. ‘The state called South Sudan exists more as a juridical fiction than as an institutional reality.’ Elaborating this point, the opinion stated, ‘[i]t is wrong to think of South Sudan as a failed state – for the simple reason that South Sudan never was a state. There was no bureaucracy, no judiciary, there was nothing to fail.’ Whatever existed ‘were only fighting forces, most of the times fighting one another and a make believe state whose leadership was propped up and fated by important sections of the international community, key being the Troika.’

It further states that ‘[t]o think of South Sudan as a failed state is to overlook the simple fact that the very political foundation for the existence of a state – a political compact – has yet to be forged, either within the elite or between the communities that comprise South Sudan.’

Immediate causes and triggers of the civil war – no attempted coup

The divisions and issues that resulted from the 1991 split survived during and after the transitional period. During the CPA, this evolved into rivalry and division between the President Salva Kiir and his deputy Machar. As the AUCISS report pointed out, the recent origin of the conflict was the tension that resulted from the 2010 elections during which ‘the two leaders are said to have supported rival candidates in a number of key electoral positions, particularly the governorships of several states.’

A series of political developments within the SPLM and in government in the months prior to the eruption of the conflict have also been cited as the main circumstances that precipitated the eruption of the conflict. These developments emerged in the context of the emergence of open power struggle in the leadership of the SPLM and hence the government. In anticipation of and as part of the jostling for the party and national elections expected in 2015, leading political figures, namely Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amun, and Madam Rebecca Garang, the widow of the late Dr. John Garang, publicly announced their intention to run for the post of Chair of the SPLM, and thus President of the country.

The resultant perceived challenge that this presented to the current chair of the SPLM and President of the country, the split in the SPLM descended into fierce power struggle. In April Riek was stripped off his executive powers. In July, President Kiir dissolved the cabinet. As documented in the AUCISS main report ‘[t]he consensus among the ex-officials (former detained senior SPLM figures) was that the genesis of the conflict in South Sudan began from an intra-party disharmony specifically between President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar.’ (para. 420)

As both reports highlighted, while the foregoing set the political background for the conflict, the immediate precipitating event was the confrontational atmosphere that prevailed during the meeting of the National Liberation Council (NLC), the legislative organ of the SPLM, the failure of the NLC to resolve the major issues of disagreement and stories of Nuer members of the presidential guard being disarmed. The separate opinion of Prof Mamdani puts it thus ‘[t]he meeting of the NLC took place against a rumor-laden, crisis atmosphere. A sense of a protracted crisis had permeated the public sphere ever since the dismissal of most of the cabinet. The atmosphere was rife with rumors, with talk of a possible breakdown leading to a split in the army and civil war.’ (para. 20)

While both reports noted the existence of divergent narratives over what triggered the conflict, the main AUCISS report concluded ‘from all information available to the Commission, the evidence does not point to a coup. We were led to conclude that the initial fighting within the presidential guard arouse out of disagreement and confusion over the alleged order to disarm Nuer members’. (para. 68)

After the AUCISS examined what was alleged to be intelligence evidence indicating the moment when Taban Deng and Riek Machar ordered fighting (for ousting President Kiir’s government) to start, it concluded that ‘it could not detect information relating to a coup from the intercepted conversation they (members of the AUCISS) listened to.’ (para. 418)

On the question of how the violence in the army spread to the public, while the main AUCISS report offers a structural analysis whereby the divisions in the political arena finds expression in the army and in the general public, the separate opinion put the focus mostly on who carried out the attacks against civilians in Juba on 16 and 17 December 2013. While noting three explanations to the question of who carried out the killings of Nuer civilians in Juba, the separate opinion pointed out that the ‘most widespread explanation was that the body of killers was a body of irregulars recruited in two districts of Bahr el Gazal by the current Chief of Staff who was then Governer of Northern Bahr al Gazal and ran the party branch in the district.’ Various testimonies contained in Chapter III of the main AUCISS report also lend strong support to this version of events.

Human rights violations and other abuses

The scale of the violations that engulfed South Sudan is unprecedented in so many ways. As the AUCISS main report pointed out ‘[w]hilst the crimes committed during the on-going violence are thus not new, the rate at which people have been killed during this conflict could be higher, according to some estimates, than during the (22 years of Sudan – Southern Sudan) civil war.’

As both documents show, the level of brutality that the violations revealed during the course of the war that broke out in December 2013 has also been unprecedented. ‘The stories and reports of the human toll of the violence and brutality have been heart-wrenching’ stated the AUCISS main report’. It went on to note ‘reports of people being burnt in places of worship and hospitals, mass burials, women of all ages raped; both elderly and young, women described how they were brutally gang raped, and left unconscious and bleeding, people were not simply shot, they were subjected, for instance, to beatings before being compelled to jump into a lit fire. The Commission heard of some captured people being forced to eat human flesh or forced to drink human blood.’ In the words of Prof. Mamdani’s separate opinion, ‘[g]ratuitous degradation was a marked feature in many of the incidents of brutality narrated to us.’

Civilians were the main target of the violations perpetrated in the conflict.The AUCISS noted thus ‘[w]hat is evident that civilians bore the brunt of the atrocities and that the conflict played out primarily amongst the civilian population and civilian targets. Indeed, specific identifiable groups within the civilian population were targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, and gender, as an integral part of the armed conflict.’ Various institutions of refuge such as hospitals and religious sites such as churches turned into sites of atrocities. There were also the use of hate speech and incitement to violence.

Perhaps, the most distinct aspect of the violations against civilians was the targeting of women and hence the prominence of the gendered dimension of the violence. As the AUCISS main report put it ‘[g]ang rape was (and continues to be) a common feature of the atrocities committed during the on-going conflict in South Sudan.’ The violations stand out not only for their targeting of women but also the brutality with which they victimized them. The AUCISS report thus noted ‘the wide use of objects such as stones, guns and sticks to rape women.’

The violations as documented in the two documents also involved strong mobilization and organization. As such, the AUCISS main report concluded that the ‘investigations reflect that violations documented were committed in a systematic manner and in most cases with extreme brutality.’ (para. 358) Similarly, the separate opinion of Prof Mamdani held that the violence ‘was intense and brutal, and targeted specific groups: Nuer in Juba; and Dinka, Nuer and Shiluk in the three states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.’

As the separate opinion pointed out, the violence that propelled South Sudan to a full-scale war ‘was unleashed in two phases. The first was over three days, from the 16th to the 18th of December, in Juba. The second phase covered three states in the provinces and was centered around three towns: Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal.’

On events in Juba, the main AUCISS report established that the ‘evidence gathered by the Commission suggests that there were killings committed by elements of security forces from 16th December 2013 in residential areas like Muniki 107, Khor Williams, New Site, Gudele one, Mangaten, Mio Saba, Customs, Nyakuren.’ (para. 464) According to the separate opinion, ‘[o]f the Nuer who remained in Juba, few survived the killing spree of December 16-18, 2013’.

Apart from killings, other violations documented in the AUCISS main report include torture and ill treatment (para. 475) and rape (475). The AUCISS accordingly held that ‘acts of torture and rape were committed in Juba by elements of security forces aligned to the government’.

The violations were well organized and targeted. Check points were established on the roads in various areas of Juba. The perpetrators of the violations undertook house-to-house searches.

The events in Juba triggered violent response in Jonglei State. Here the response mobilized the Nuer. As the separate opinion put it ‘Nuer mobilization began on the 17th and 18th of December. It took two forms, a rebellion and an uprising.’ ‘The rebellion’ according to the separate opinion, ‘followed a mutiny by Nuer in the army, led by Peter Gatdet, commander of 8th Division of SPLA’. The uprising involved what the separate opinion called ‘a more spontaneous response’ that came from ‘county level youth fighting formations known as the White Army (the name refers to white ash from cow dung with which the youth smear their bodies).’

According to the AUCISS main report ‘[f]rom the evidence on record, Peter Gatdet defected on the night of 17th December 2013 with mostly Nuer soldiers. In the process of defecting, the general ordered the killing of his deputy in Command Brigadier Ajak Yen. The evidence also suggests that on 18th December 2013, soldiers under his command killed a prison warden called Lt. Manguak in Block 4. On the same date, mass killings were committed … The killings targeted civilians of Dinka ethnicity who were trying to cross the river fleeing the impending war.’

The separate opinion registered that the White Army mobilized spontaneously to go to Juba following the arrival of news that the Nuer in Juba were targeted. Explaining the context that led to their speedy mobilization, Prof Mamdani’s separate opinion observed that they ‘were fresh from campaign against David Yau Yau‟s Murle militias, they mobilized with relative ease and speed.’

As the separate opinion put it, the ‘White Army left a trail of pillage, carnage and destruction in the towns and villages they swept through in their march to Juba.’ According to the AUCISS main report, mass killings were recorded in various parts of Bor town including ‘at St Andrew Cathedral, at Bor State Hospital, Bor Market place, at the CID compound (river bank), at the Police barracks. Other areas where massive killings took place within Bor town are Panjak, Malou and Marol areas’.

The use of rape as weapon of war was one of the characteristic feature of the violations in Jonglei as it was in Juba. As the AUCISS main report pointed out the ‘majority of women stated that the rapists consistently uttered verbal references to be reiterated against Dinka, thus confirming that women were being targeted not only because of their gender but also because of their ethnicity.’

The AUCISS report and Prof Mamdani’s report took completely divergent position on the relationship between the SPLM-IO and the White Army. The AUCISS main report held that there existed an institutionalized tie between the two including based on claims by Riek Machar that he was in command of the White Army (see para. 571). By contrast, after providing details of testimony in his separate opinion Prof Mamdani concluded

The White Army is not an army. It is not even a collection of militias. These are not soldiers but civilians with arms. The difference is in motivation and discipline. The White Army is motivated by a deep sense of grievance – revenge – and the promise of plunder. Unlike with soldiers, its members lack any sense of military discipline, command or hierarchy.

On Unity State, the AUCISS main report documents the violations and destruction that befallen its capital Bentiu. As the report noted, although other parts of Unity such as Rubkona have been severely affected, Bentiu was the epicenter of the fighting and the human rights violations and other abuses. ‘As is the case for Malakal in Upper Nile as well as Bor in Jonglei, noted the AUCISS report, ‘Bentiu town is largely destroyed.’

AUCISS’s report held that ‘the Commission heard testimony that civilians were killed, houses burned, and sexual violence committed against women. It further stated that ‘[t]he Commission was actually provided with a list of people killed during a visit to Bentiu POC Site; including women who had simply disappeared when collecting wood, presumably abducted.’ The violations were committed both by the SPLM in opposition and government forces.

On events in Upper Nile, one of the three major centers of the conflict in South Sudan, the AUCISS documented similar violations. Unlike the events documented for Jonglie and Unity, which mostly report testimonies of witnesses, on the violations in Upper Nile the AUCISS offers a synthesis of violations that took place there. It thus stated ‘[r]eported violations and crimes committed include: extrajudicial killings and rape.’

On how the violations were committed, it held that ‘[b]oth sides have reportedly targeted civilians, often conducting extensive house-to-house searches for individuals from rival ethnic communities, mostly Dinka and Nuer. Individuals from other communities, notably Shilluk, the third largest in South Sudan, have also been targeted.’

Regarding the scale of the violence, the AUCISS report noted that Malakal, having been the most contested of the various areas changing hands between the SPLM-IO and government forces, witnessed the most destruction. In the words of the report, ‘the majority of buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed. This includes government buildings and installations, civilian property.’

War Crimes

After treating the situation in South Sudan as a case of internal armed conflict falling within the rule of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the AUCISS found that war crimes were committed by both sides. In the words of the report, ‘considering the applicable law and case law, and the evidence and testimony the Commission has before it, the Commission believes that war crimes were committed in Juba, Bor, Bentiu and Malakal.’ The crimes include war crimes of unlawful killings or civilians and those believed to be hors de combat, rape, torture, and forced recruitment of children.

Crimes against humanity

Holding that ‘crimes such as murder, extermination, torture, rape, persecutions on political grounds as well as inhuman and degrading treatment were committed against civilians in various parts of South Sudan’ and that they were committed in a widespread or systematic manner, the AUCISS stated that it is reasonable to conclude that these crimes amount to crimes against humanity. It concluded the existence of a planning element with respect to some of the violations that took place in Juba. In terms of organization and specific targeting, it held that ‘[r]oadblocks or checkpoints were established all around Juba and house to house searches were undertaken by security forces. During this operation male Nuers were targeted, identified, killed on the spot or gathered in one place and killed.’

The AUCISS held that the evidence suggests that these crimes were committed in furtherance of state policy. In the words of the AUCISS ‘t[]he evidence also shows that it was an organized military operation that could not have been successful without concerted efforts from various actors in the military and government circles.’

Importance of the report/s

The AUCISS report together with the separate opinion presents a detailed account of the causes & immediate trigger of the civil war and the atrocities perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. In recording the details of violations, it offers a comprehensive account for helping South Sudan build a shared memory that will serve to fight impunity. It sought to give voice to the views and concerns of affected communities and various sections of South Sudanese society both about the war and its resolution. It has also laid down the foundation for the transitional justice processes envisaged in the IGAD sponsored peace agreement including the proposed hybrid court and the commission on truth, healing and reconciliation. In documenting and availing to the public the events constituting the civil war and the violations it inflicted on the civilian population, the AUCISS report as well as the separate opinion gives strong impetus for the implementation of the parts of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan relating to accountability and truth, reconciliation and healing.


African Union Commission 18 September 2015

The year of review of peace operations

Following months of investigation and consultations, the UN High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), which UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon established in June 2014, finalized and submitted its report in June 2015. The last time a similar review focusing on UN peacekeeping was conducted was 15 years ago by the Brahimi panel. The report, which has reviewed developments and changes in the peace and security landscape of the world since its predecessor the Brahimi report, is expected to define the course of UN’s engagement in the maintenance of international peace and security for the coming decade or more.

Given the focus of the report on peace support operations, there is no region of the world to be affected more by the policy, institutional operational and financial implications of the proposals the report sets out than Africa. No part of the world features more prominently in the work of the UN Security Council (UNSC) than Africa. The UNSC dedicates more than 60% of its agenda to African issues. Africa also hosts more peacekeeping or peace support operations than any other continent. Of the 16 ongoing UN peacekeeping operations in the world, nine are in Africa. In terms of personnel numbers and budget size, the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operations are in Africa.

These facts also mean that for the UN, perhaps more than any other part of the world, developments in Africa have a significant impact on its peace operations.

Given that the review of UN peace operations is a once in a decade and half exercise, how the proposals of this report are translated into policy, institutional, operational actions is of strategic interest not only to the UN but also particularly to Africa.

Indeed, These considerations informed the decision of the AU (as contained in the AU 24th summit outcome document) and its member states to articulate an African position on the high level review of UN peace operations. A number of important aspects of the proposals in the African common position were favorably received and reflected in the final report of the HIPPO. Following the release the HIPPO report, the AU Peace and Security Council held a session on a report and commended the HIPPO for its work.

On 2 September 2015, the Secretary-General released a report on the implementation of the recommendations of the HIPPO. As the UN and member states start to look into the implementation of the recommendations of the HIPPO, it is of utmost importance for AU member states to reflect on, together with partners, the recommendations of the report and achieve the required preparedness for actively shaping and participating in the processes of pursuing the implementation of the recommendations.

To this end, the Permanenet Mission of Ethiopia and the Norwegian Embassy together with the AU and the UN Office to the AU will convene a working lunch on the HIPPO report.

HIPPO Report and Secretary-General’s report on the HIPPO: implications for Africa and the AU

The African common position argued for a strategic partnership between the AU and the UN underpinned by a number of principles within the framework of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. In a section dealing with what the HIPPO called a global and regional partnership for peace and security, this point has been addressed. Affirming the Secretary-General’s conclusion that ‘we have entered an era of partnership peacekeeping’, the report acknowledged the prominent role that regional and sub-regional organizations have come to assume. It in particular noted the increasing capability, reliability and assertiveness of African states serving under the AU flag. Taking into account the need to enhance partnerships in Africa, the report emphasized that the UN and the AU must strive for common approaches through shared assessments, sound consultative mechanisms for decision-making and tools for collaborative planning and operations across the conflict cycle.

With respect to UN-AU strategic partnership, it identified as founding principles cooperation, consultative decision-making and common strategy, division of labor based on respective comparative advantage; joint analysis, planning, monitoring and evaluation; and integrated response to the conflict cycle, including prevention. While most of these reflect those articulated in the African common position, the HIPPO report additionally added transparency, accountability and respect for international standards.

There are a number of issues that arise from these. One such issue is the assessment of the current state of and mechanisms for UN-AU partnership. The other is the identification of further modalities and mechanisms for a stronger partnership able to effectively and coherently respond to the peace and security challenges on the continent. Equally important is the analysis and determination of the comparative advantage of each for burden sharping and achieving mutual understanding on and acceptance of each other’s complementary role.

Apart from the various institutional arrangements and mechanisms framing AU-UN partnership, the rising contribution of Africa to UN peacekeeping also shapes UN-AU partnership peacekeeping. Africa has become the largest single regional contributor to UN peace operations, contributing approximately 45 % of the UN’s uniformed peacekeepers. In this regard, it is worth to look into the role of enhancing the representation of the voice of African troop and police contributors in the UN structures and decision-making processes for further strengthening AU-UN partnership for peace and security in Africa.

While the UN and the AU have made significant progress in developing an increasingly functional working relationship over the past seven years with respect to peacekeeping, the perennial problem that this partnership has not been able to resolve is the question of sharing the burden of financing AU-led and UN-authorised peacekeeping operations. For a long time, the AU advocated for the use of UN assessed contributions for funding UN authorized AU missions as the most predictable and reliable source of financing, while also mobilizing AU member states for increased contribution for funding AU missions.

Noting that the lack of provision of sustained, predictable and flexible funding to AU missions impacts the effectiveness of UN missions when taking over from the AU and recalling the recommendations of the 2008 Prodi Report, the HIPPO recommended the use of UN-assessed contributions on a case-by-case basis to support Security Council authorized AU missions. Additionally,

While this is a very positive development, whether and how this is going to be translated into action is critical. In this regard, the formulation in the Secretary-General’s Report on the implementation of the recommendations of the HIPPO report in this regard has failed to embrace the recommendation and meet expectations. While the HIPPO report specifically singled out the use of UN-assessed contributions, the Secretary-General’s report expresses agreement in general terms with ‘the Panel’s call for sustained, predictable and flexible funding mechanisms to support African Union peace operations’. Most notably, instead of adopting the recommendation of the HIPPO, the Secretary-General envisaged a joint ‘review and assessment of various mechanisms currently available to finance and support African Union peace operations authorized by the Council.’

This is one of the major areas of divide between the HIPPO report and the Secretary-General’s report. It is worthwhile to look into other areas of differences and what such differences mean on the follow up and implementation of the agenda for reform of UN peace operations and in taking AU-UN partnership to a more strategic level.

The HIPPO recommendation on the use of UN-assessed contributions has various institutional ramifications for the AU and it also affects the role of AU member states. As outlined in the HIPPO report, any African union peace support operation receiving UN-assessed contributions should provide regular reports to the council, financial report to the UN and comply fully with UN standards, such as human rights due diligence policy, and UN conduct and discipline frameworks. Secretary-General’s report further states that ‘financing provided by the United Nations will depend on institutional capability to effectively plan, deploy and conduct peace operations and will be contingent on compliance with United Nations norms, standards and financial rules and regulations.’

With respect to the AU, this requires increased alignment of AU’s working standards and procedures to the standards of the UN. Similarly, it also demands that the running, assessment and reporting of AU operations reflect and meet standards at the UN level. The institutional and reporting requirements also mean that AU’s training and deployment of troops are made to be in sync with those the UN use. From the side of member states, such requirements demand that their troops meet these standards and expectations and conduct themselves, ones in mission, accordingly.


As the UN holds the 70th General Assembly and member states discuss during a summit level meeting on UN peacekeeping, it is of high importance for the AU and AU member states to build on the progress made so far and identify priority areas for engagement. In this regard, a good starting point is to identify areas from the African common position that have not been reflected in the HIPPO report and need to be followed up within the AU and in the strategic dialogue with the UN.

While working on the follow up and implementation of the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the recommendations of the HIPPO report, there is also a need to identify those parts of the recommendations of the HIPPO report that have not been adequately reflected in the Secretary-General’s report which are of strategic importance deserving follow up.

What chance for undoing Burkina Faso’s counter revolutionary coup?


, , , , , ,

Following the not unexpected coup on 16 September 2015, Burkina Faso has been plunged into a constitutional crisis and political turmoil. The Presidential Guard, known by its French acronym as RSP, after taking the transitional President Michel Kafando, Prime Minister Isaac Zida and two ministers hostage and dissolving the government announced the formation of a new entity, which ironically decorated itself with democratic façade naming itself National Council for Democracy, headed by no other than General Gilbert Diendéré, leader of the RSP.

Despite the apparent sway that the junta Diendéré leads holds at the moment as the de facto authority, the head of the National Transitional Council, Chérif Sy, has defied the dissolution of the transitional government declaring himself the be the legitimate “Interim President of Burkina Faso” while the transitional president and PM are being held.

This unsavory move that the junta made also interrupted the country’s less than one year difficult but promising journey of transition to a new democratic beginning. While the election planned to take place on 11 October is unlikely to stand, it remains uncertain if and in what form the transitional process will be restored.

As a counter revolutionary act aimed at protecting elements of the old regime, the coup set off widespread opposition in Burkina Faso that turned violent. It has not only triggered protests in the capital and other parts of the country but also produced a confrontation with the RSP whose violent response led to the death of 13 protestors and the injury of more than 100 others.

Although after Senegal’s President Macky Sall and Benin’s President Boni Yaye visited Burkina Faso ECOWAS announced a peace plan, this was received with dismay and anger on the part of the Burkinabe public and the transitional authorities. Many view the deal as a reward to the coup makers for using force to safeguard their narrow interests that came under threat due to the reform process initiated under the transitional process.

Civil society groups and opposition politicians, who said they had not been informed of the document’s contents before they were announced, totally rejected the 13-point ECOWAS peace plan, which included an amnesty for the coup leaders. Despite the fact that the initiative from ECOWAS led to the release of the leader of the transitional government, President Kafando rejected the ECOWAS plan saying that ‘I was not associated with the negotiations at Hotel Laico … It does not take into account the interests of the Burkinabe people.’

While civil society organizations, former opposition political parties and community leaders continue to oppose and mobilize against the coup, the junta has also faced a major opposition from the Burkinabe army. In a development that has threatened to push the country to the brink of armed confrontation, Burkina Faso army chiefs gave the coup leaders ultimatum to step down or forcibly disarmed by the army. Although this prompted the leader of the junt to apologize and promise to end the crisis and instigated the release of prime minister Zide, the army has been mobilized to the capital Ouagadougou to disarm the junta.

ECOWAS summit and the major sticking points

In the meantime, on 22 September ECOWAS has convened a summit level emergency meeting in an attempt to end the crisis in Burkina Faso.

As ECOWAS leaders gather in Abuja, Nigeria, there are three major issues for negotiation. The first relates to the controversy over the new electoral code that the transitional government adopted in April 2015 which has the effect of excluding politicians from the old regime who supported Compaore’s bid in 2014 to change the constitutional provision limiting presidential terms and extend his 27 years rule. Despite the fact that this new electoral rule proved contentious and a ruling from ECOWAS court of justice rejected it, the country’s Constitutional Court upheld it.

The second major sticking point concerns the fate of the RSP. The inclination of members of the transitional government and those who participated in the protest against Compaore in 2014 for the dissolution of the RSP has in previous occasions also led to attempts at derailing the transitional process.

On 14 September, the Commission for National Reconciliation and Reform (CNRR) released a report which not only criticized the RSP for lacking accountability and operating as an army within the army and but also recommended its dissolution. The coup was a direct response to this report, which the RSP considered to be a mortal blow to its existence.

The proposal in the ECOWAS plan was to postpone the determination of the fate of the RSP until the establishment of a democratically elected government. While this may in the short term facilitate an end to the crisis, it would set a precedent that the RSP may as well repeat when and if a new democratically elected government opts to follow through the recommendation of the CNRR and dissolve the RSP.

The third major issue concerns the fate of the coup makers if and after they surrendered power. One of the elements of the ECOWAS peace plan that President Sall of Senegal announced after his mediation visit to Burkina Faso was the provision to spare the coup makers from prosecution for the coup. This received the most opposition from the people of Burkina Faso.

While there is legitimate ground for compromise on the first sticking point, the two other ones are likely to prove difficult to be accepted without endangering the journey for a new democratic beginning. By end of 22 September, it is reported that the speaker of the interim parliament has signed a decree dissolving the RSP.

The line of forces (or external intervention) likely to determine the outcome of the standoff

In the light of the perception in Burkina Faso that ECOWAS has shown bias towards the coup makers, what seems to be determining the undoing of the coup are the course of events on the ground. What stands to decisively shape the course of events on the ground is the line of forces between the coup makers and those opposing the coup.

Despite the fact that the coup makers receive support only from the members and limited supporters of the old regime, they have continued to hold their ground even in the face of threat from the army. The coup makers also have strong motivation for their counter revolutionary act. While the RSP is motivated by self-preservation, its leader general Diendéré, Compaore’s long time right-hand man suspected of being in charge of the soldiers who killed Thomas Sankar, is also afraid of the opening of old files that may send him to prosecution. Apart from the fact that the RSP is bent of thwarting efforts aimed at its dismantling and is a highly trained and well-organized force, it also seem to have the sympathy, if not full backing, of quite a number of ECOWAS countries, who agreed to pretty much everything that the RSP asked for.

The opposition to the coup is also very wide and strong. It brings together political parties, civil society groups and ordinary Burkinabes. Other significant components of the camp opposing the coup are the transitional government and the armed forces of the country.

Internationally, apart from the condemnation against the coup by the UN and western powers including the country’s former colonial ruler France, those opposing the coup and demanding the unconditional restoration of the transitional government receive the most support from the African Union (AU) and the EU.

In a principled decision that stood on the side of the Burkinabe public, the Peace and Security Council, AU’s highest decision making body on peace and security, not only declared the acts of the coup makers null and void and rejected it as an act of terrorism but also slapped on them a wide range of measures including asset freeze and travel bans and launching of processes to bring them to justice. On 22 September, the spokesperson of the Chairperson of the AU Commission in an interview with CCTV on 22 stated that the AU rejects amnesty to the coup makers. Similarly the EU also called for the unconditional surrender of the coup makers and the return to power of the transitional government.

If the coup makers continue with their determination to impose their will by force and no negotiated resolution is achieved, Burkina Faso faces the unfortunate prospect of a fighting between the RSP and the army. In the light of the serious risks of the descent of the situation into such an armed conflict to the countries of the region, this scenario may lead to another intervention by the French.

Burkina Faso is on a knife-edge and the coming hours and the days ahead will reveal its fate. May the act of counter revolution fail and the aspiration of Burkinabes for a new democratic beginning prevail!