Pursuing Peace in the Horn of Africa

Tasneem Jamal Armed Conflicts, Defence & Human Security

Bethuel Kiplagat

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2007 Volume 28 Issue 1

Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat is the Executive Director of Africa Peace Forum, a non-governmental organization in Nairobi, which partners with Project Ploughshares in peacebuilding efforts in the Horn of Africa.

An earlier version of this paper was delivered in Waterloo on 10 November 2006 as part of the Project Ploughshares 30th anniversary symposium, “Canadian Responses to Contemporary Threats to International Peace and Security.”

Five or ten years ago, Ernie and some other colleagues and I paid a courtesy call on the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were all feeling rather tired. We walked through the office of the Secretary-General, greeted him, and then he introduced us to his colleagues, saying, “Well, welcome here, these are my friends, these are extinguished friends.” I’m thinking that Ernie is not extinguished yet. Neither am I, although I have been retired now for some time.

First, on behalf of my colleague Ambassador Adala, Africa Peace Forum, the people of Kenya, and of the Horn of Africa, I would like to say a big, big thank you to Project Ploughshares and to Canada for the commitment, the accompaniment, and the support that you have given us for almost a decade. You have walked with us, on the very long road to peace and security in the Horn of Africa.

I am aware that there has been a bit of pessimism about the African continent – with HIV/AIDS, conflict, mismanagement, the whole lot. But those of us who have examined the last decade or so can see some signs of hope. I want to briefly paint that picture as an introduction to Africa, and then I will come specifically to the Horn and the role that Ploughshares and Canada have played in assisting us.

Indicators of hope

If 10 or 15 years ago you had examined a map of Africa and pinned red flags to indicate sites of conflict, you would have been shocked to discover that 34 of the 53 countries had red flags. The whole continent was, in many ways, aflame, with conflict zones stretching from Senegal all the way to Djibouti, Mozambique, and further. Thirty-four countries were in some sort of turmoil. If we look back over the last 30-40 years, we see instability, coups, and assassinations of leaders. I was shocked to realize that 16 heads of states and governments have been assassinated in the African Continent during that time. So the picture is grim.

Now when we look back, we can say, “Well, it seems the tide is turning.” I will list only a few examples. Currently, strictly speaking, on the whole continent there is really only half a red flag, in Darfur – well a little bit into Chad and Central Africa Republic. I’m not saying that there is peace all over. The situation in Côte d’Ivoire is not yet resolved, the eastern part of Congo is unsettled, Somalia has not stabilized, and on and on – sometimes there is peace, sometimes there isn’t. When you look at the continent as a whole now, you can say that the hottest spot is Darfur. So when we look at Africa, we can say to ourselves, “Well, thank God, there is something that is actually secure.” So there is one indicator of hope.

The second indicator is the number of elections that have taken place. Between 25 and 30 countries have had multi-party elections in the last half-dozen years. These elections might not have been perfect – there might have been rigging here or there, but no one today is accepting coups as they did in the past. The only recent coup was in Mauritania, where the military took power in August 2005, and they have said that they are organizing for elections next year. Let’s hope that the elections will take place. Widespread elections are another indicator of hope.

Third, we can see the beginning of an upswing in economic development. I’m not talking about redistribution. I’m not talking of the gap between the rich and the poor, which is increasing. Our unemployment problem is massive, but we can see a positive development.
The crowning achievement is the way African leaders in 2002 sat down together and said, “We cannot go on the way we have been going. We see that the main reason why we have low indicators for development and conflict is bad governance. What are we going to do?”

So they sat down, and came up with what I consider to be a most innovative idea, the peer review of governance. I have the privilege of being a member of the first team to review countries. We examine intently every aspect of governance: the powers of the heads of state, separation of powers, human rights, women’s rights, and children’s rights. So far we have finished reviewing Ghana, Rwanda, and Kenya. These countries subjected themselves to peer review. The Kenyan report did not present a rosy picture, but it did paint an accurate picture of where things are today and, I must say, it was very, very well received. Now the country has to show how it is going to remedy the weaknesses. We are going back in six months or a year to look. This is another indicator of hope.

Recent history in the Horn

The Horn of Africa consists of seven countries: Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya. Together they form a regional development organization known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), with its headquarters in Djibouti.

I met Ernie about 12-13 years ago. At that time the Horn, like the rest of Africa, was in turmoil. Ethiopia was still engaged in a civil war that would conclude with the breaking away of Eritrea. Djibouti was also engaged in civil war. In Somalia warlords were in control of the whole country. The war in northern Uganda, supported by Sudan, was at its peak.

War raged in Sudan. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army (SPLM/A) were in complete control of the three provinces of southern Sudan, except for three or four towns held by the government. The SPLM/A had begun to make incursions into northern Sudan and had started fighting in eastern Sudan. We also had information that they were moving west into Darfur.

The war in Darfur originated with southern Sudan and its leaders. The SPLM/A were supporting the movement of marginalized communities (and by the way, the SPLM/A coined the word “marginalization”). Now, the international community, particularly the western world, looks at that war as a religious war, but when we did our analysis of the actual conflict we said, “No, this is not a religious war. This is very close to a racial war. People of Arab origins who speak Arabic are discriminating against the marginalized people of African origin.” When you looked at the actual conflict, even during the time of the SPLA, there were many Muslim soldiers fighting with the SPLA.

APFO and Ploughshares at work in the Horn

In 1993 a group under the umbrella of the All Africa Conference of Churches was just beginning and we met with Ernie Regehr to discuss how Ploughshares could be of assistance to us. The first help that Ernie provided was to give us our name: Africa Peace Forum. That name was born in Canada, not in Kenya. We sat down together and said, “What should we call ourselves? Should we call ourselves Pan-African peace movement? And Ernie, after listening, said, “I think Africa Peace Forum would be the most appropriate.” So I want to say we are like a grandson or maybe granddaughter and Ernie has to look after us, and of course as he gets older, we will look after him. So that is the first direct contribution that Ernie made to us.

Control of small arms

Over time, the whole idea of small arms began to emerge. We didn’t know that this was something that we ought to grapple with, but in conferences and meetings which Ernie and I attended, the idea of management and control of small arms came up.
While I was attending a conference in Canada, Ernie graciously organized a luncheon with the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Briefed by Ernie, I talked to the Minister and said, “Can you help us with the problem of small arms in Kenya and in the Horn of Africa?” The Minister said, “I would be quite interested. Please talk to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kenya. If my colleague is interested, if he would like any help from us, we would be ready to consider it.” So I flew back home and said to the Minister, “Greetings from your colleague in Canada. By the way, he would be prepared and ready to assist you in any area, particularly on small arms.” He looked at me and said, “Yeah, we would be interested.”

Later I had a telephone call that the Kenyan Ministry was setting up a working group to prepare for a conference to write a declaration. Before the conference Ernie and a Norwegian expert were invited to Nairobi to meet with the Minister. They prepared the declaration.

The Minister called a conference, and to outrageous surprise, nine or ten Ministers of Foreign Affairs came to Nairobi for a conference on small arms. After three days they all signed the document that Ernie and a Norwegian colleague and the Kenyans had prepared and that became the Nairobi Declaration.

So, Canadians have a lot to do with the Nairobi Declaration and the Regional Centre on Small Arms and Light Weapons in the Great Lakes Region and the Horn of Africa (RECSA) that arose from the declaration. Eleven countries are involved in the centre, which is being developed as fast as possible. This whole idea came through cooperation and cost very little money. Work coming out of the Nairobi Declaration has an impact on the whole region and is the most advanced in Africa. Internationally, the Nairobi Declaration is seen as a good example of cooperation among countries in the management of small arms. Both Ploughshares and APFO can take credit for this result.

Prohibition of anti-personnel landmines

As the war continued in Sudan, Ernie was preparing for a conference on landmines. At a meeting we discussed landmines, and I thought, ‘Now what shall we do about it?’ Since I was so deeply engaged with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, I went and saw John Garang. I said, “John, why do you continue using landmines? Don’t you think this is destructive to you?” I had picked up the idea that you don’t actually gain by using these landmines; if anything it’s the opposite. So I was able to insert that idea, which came from contact with Ernie.

After a time, John called me back and said, “Well, that is a very interesting idea.” Because he was going to be traveling in Europe, I said to him, “John, while you are in Europe, why don’t you make a unilateral declaration about stopping the use of anti-personnel landmines in Sudan while the war is going on?” He didn’t say anything before he left. I heard his statement over the radio. He surprised everybody, and the diplomats in Nairobi thought, “Well, this is just a joke. How can you trust rebel leaders?”

When he came back, I met him and said, “Thank you very much, this was really wonderful. But, John, nobody will believe you, unless you come out and endorse your idea.” So, a few weeks later he came back and said, “Here is the resolution.” So again I said, “John, yes, but this is just on paper.”

A week or two later, a military guy arrived in my office and said, “I have been sent by our chairman [Garang]. He asked me to come, and you are now the chairman of the board of an organization we are starting called OSIL [Operation Save Innocent Lives–Sudan], and we want to deal with the problem of landmines.” I said, “But you are not a registered organization.” He said, “We know we’re not registered, but we are starting one with you.”

So I gave them a desk in a small office, which was supported by Ploughshares, and I said, “Start here.” And so we started, and nobody could believe that while the war was going on, there was a whole program for mine awareness and the removal and mapping of landmines in southern Sudan. Because we were doing that, the government of Sudan also came on board. I am pleased to say that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement was the first non-state actor to sign the Geneva Protocol on Landmines. Again, Ploughshares can list this achievement as a contribution to peace in the Horn.

Peace processes for Sudan and Somalia

While APFO was particularly engaged with the Sudanese, Ploughshares and the Canadian government supported us, a very small NGO that was trying to get all the parties in Sudan to continue with the peace process. There were many drawbacks, but we were able to convince the SPLM and the government of Sudan that the best option was to carry on with the war, but to take the talks seriously. And they did. I must thank God and thank you because, on 9 January 2005, the Sudanese signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. I’m not saying everything is perfect, but change has taken place.

There are many Somali refugees in Kenya, and APFO kept considering what we could do to help. An opportunity came when I was asked by my government and IGAD to be the special envoy to negotiate the peace process among the Somalis. More than 300 Somali delegates met in Nairobi for 24 months, and I was their father, their mother, their brother, their grandfather, tending to them in every sense of that word.

I must confess that there were times when I was very discouraged and disappointed with the international community. We were struggling with this peace process and often we ran short of resources. One morning when I went to the office where we were meeting, Somalis came to me and said, “Oh, we had no breakfast this morning.” So I thought, well, maybe there’s a power shortage, and I didn’t take any notice. About 2 o’clock, another group came and said, “How are you, Chairman? You know, we had no lunch.” I began to get a bit worried. So I saw the director of the centre and said, “What is going on?” He told me, “I’m sorry, you are in such a big debt, and we cannot pay our suppliers, so there is no food for the delegates.”

I rang other hotels, and they had also stopped feeding the Somali delegates. So I called an emergency meeting of the leadership and said, “What should we do? We’d better close the meeting. We cannot carry on.” They said, “No. We will starve, we will share whatever little we have, but peace is important.” For the next six weeks they were able to feed themselves and assist each other until help came. I kept on begging and crying to Canadians, Americans, anyone I could think of, but support was slow to come. And so I learned that some of us who believe in a peace have to make greater sacrifices and work much harder. Do not believe governments when they say, “We have made peace a top priority.” You have to work hard to reach that goal.

The road ahead

In the Horn of Africa, we can see some signs of hope for Uganda with the talks that are going on in Juba with the Lord’s Resistance Army. There are many problems, but the latest information we had was that things were slowly progressing. I’m sorry about Somalia, on which we spent a lot of money and a lot of time and where the situation is very precarious. They could slide into another conflict which would produce thousands and thousands of refugees in Kenya. Anyone who has ever been inside the theatre of conflicts cannot come back and be the same again. I have been inside in Mozambique, in Uganda, in Sudan, and in Somalia, and I tell you, when you look at the people, when you look at what has happened to them, you cannot go and eat and sleep and say, “Well, this is not my problem.” It is the problem of all of us.

We always like telling stories in Africa, so let me finish with a story from Mozambique that was retold by the secretary-general of the All Africa Conference of Churches. This is the story of a married couple who were being bothered by rats all over the place. They decided to do something about the rats, not by using poison but by putting a trap in the loft of the house. A rat came along and saw this thing and saw that it was a danger. So the rat went away and met with the chicken. He told the chicken, “You know, there is some danger up in the raft of this house. I was wondering whether you and I could work together to deal with it.” The chicken responded, “That’s nothing to do with me,” and left. So the rat was still concerned about this trap and met with the pig. He said, “You know, there is something up there. Can we work together to see what we can do?” The pig said, “Really, this is nothing to do with me,” and left. Then the rat met a cow, and the cow said the same thing.

Later, the lady of the house went up to the loft and found that a snake had gotten into the trap. She took hold of the trap and the snake bit her. She was in great pain and suffering, and the family and neighbours tried to treat her, but her heart deteriorated. In Africa, you make soup to boost the person’s system, and so someone slaughtered the chicken and made soup for the lady, but her health deteriorated further and distant visitors came to offer assistance. Now, in Africa, just like here, you must offer your guests food. So someone slaughtered the pig, and the visitors were fed. Despite all this attention the poor lady died. Hundreds of people came to the burial service, and of course they had to be fed. What else could be done? The cow was killed to feed the whole group.

The only creature who escaped death was the rat. The moral of the story is, let’s not look at a problem out there and say, “This is not my problem,” because if you do not deal with it, it will become your problem, and you may go the same way as the chicken, the pig, and the cow. So please try and be the rat.

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