Conflicts Across the Horn of Africa
January 17, 2007, —
An arc of crisis is stretching across the Horn of Africa, from Mogadishu, Somalia, to N'Djamena, Chad. Following is a brief summary:
A decades-long civil war between northern and southern Sudan ended on January 9, 2005, when the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The historic accord ended Africa's longest war, a brutal conflict that claimed the lives of more than 2 million people and displaced more than 4 million within Sudan and across its borders. But the peace is fragile, and reconstruction will take years. Currently, the new government of South Sudan is working to build roads, clear mines and help displaced southerners returning to their homeland. Under the agreement, voters in South Sudan will decide by 2011 whether to secede, creating an independent state.
CRS is one of the largest and longest-serving relief agencies working in South Sudan, having started operations there in the early 1970s. The agency is actively engaged in agriculture, peacebuilding, health, education and emergency relief to southerners as they rebuild a region devastated by conflict.
In February 2003, two rebel groups in Darfur, Sudan's westernmost province, took up arms against the Sudanese government, demanding more equitable distribution of the country's resources. In response, local Arab militias known as the janjaweed, allegedly backed by the government of Sudan, attacked villages linked to the rebels. The results have been ghastly, with villages torched, women raped and beaten, and an estimated 200,000 people killed. Four years later, more than 2 million people — one-third of Darfur's population — are still displaced by the conflict. Insecurity, malnutrition and other health problems are still rampant.
On May 5, 2006, a peace agreement was signed between the government of Sudan and one faction of the Sudan People's Liberation Army Movement. However, other key rebel leaders refused to sign the agreement, and insecurity has only increased on the ground. In late December 2006, the Sudanese government agreed to deploy a hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force.
CRS continues to serve about 150,000 people across the province of West Darfur, providing food, clean water and sanitation, shelter, education, agricultural assistance, and health education, but insecurity has limited humanitarian access to some affected communities.
The conflict in western Sudan doesn't stop at the country's border. More than 200,000 refugees have fled from Darfur into Chad, finding shelter in camps run by agencies like CRS and its local partner, Secours Catholique et Developpement (Catholic Relief and Development). Violence has followed the refugees, however, and the camps themselves have come under attack, making life unsafe for both the refugees and Chadians living in the region. As many as 100,000 Chadians have been displaced by the local violence. In addition, Chadian rebel groups interested in toppling President Idriss Deby have launched their efforts from the east. In 2006, Deby accused Khartoum of arming these groups.
In eastern Chad, CRS is working with Secours Catholique et Developpement to manage two refugee camps, each roughly 30 miles inside the Chadian border. Together, the camps serve more than 31,000 refugees.
For the past two decades, a vicious rebel insurgency has ripped apart northern Uganda, a region that had previously served as the country's breadbasket. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has killed and mutilated civilians, and abducted children, forcing them to become soldiers or servants. Up to 80 percent of the local population was forced into humanitarian camps, fearing LRA attacks on their villages, and thousands of children walked nightly from their rural homes to urban areas to avoid abduction. The conflict also destabilizes parts of southern Sudan, where LRA fighters created new bases for their attacks.
Last year, the Lord's Resistance Army entered peace talks with the government of Uganda, and violence on the ground decreased to its lowest levels in years. Though a peace accord has not been reached, northern Ugandans, who have spent years in camps, are starting to venture further outside the camps in early efforts to rebuild their lives.
CRS works extensively in northern Uganda, providing emergency relief — including clean water and sanitation, shelter, and even a library for children — as well as support in peacebuilding and HIV and AIDS.
Somalia has lacked an effective central government since civil war broke out in 1991. Late last year, a conflict developed pitting the Somali Transitional Federal Government, a weak but internationally recognized regime, against the Council of Somali Islamic Courts, which had established control in Mogadishu and other parts of the south. With U.S. support, Ethiopia stepped in to back the Transitional Federal Government, partly out of concern that the Council of Somali Islamic Courts had aims on Ethiopia's Somali region, the scene of the Ogaden War 30 years ago, and that elements of radical Islam might be established if the Courts were to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government. The Courts were routed from power, but security is tenuous and the situation on the ground remains tense.
Tens of thousands of Somalis have been displaced from their homes, driven by climatic disasters including droughts and massive regional flooding, as well as the current conflict. To account for this influx, and the potential for escalating crises, CRS is carrying out contingency planning in Ethiopia and Kenya, while coordinating with Caritas Somalia and other local partners to provide additional support if necessary.
Ethiopia and Eritrea
These neighboring nations have been involved in a tense border standoff since war broke out over the dividing line in 1998. Since then, tensions have flared periodically, though violence has been averted.
CRS works in both Ethiopia and Eritrea on a variety of relief and rehabilitation programs.