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Activist groups none-too-pleased with Darfur envoy Scott Gration

After the Obama administration rolled out its much anticipated Sudan Policy Review in mid-October, activists praised the content of the review, but adopted a "wait-and-see" attitude as to whether or not the policy recommendations would be implemented.  Well, they've waited. And after yesterday's Congressional testimony from U.S. Sudan Envoy Gen. Scott Gration, they are not too happy with what they have seen.

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Ethiopia-Eritrea Claims Commission issues payments

Opinio Juris' Duncan Hollis has the goods on the payouts from the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission (set up to arbitrate damage claims from the 1998-2000 conflict between the two countries) -- another topic sure to be of passionate interest to a certain subset of Dispatch readers.

You can access the damages decisions for Eritrea here, and those for Ethiopia hereAccording to the AP, both sides will accept the awards, but neither is apparently thrilled with the final results.  Ethiopia ends up with more money; its final award totals $174,036,520, while Eritrea receives $161,455,000 plus an additional $2,065,865 for individual Eritrean claimants.  Ethiopia apparently feels though that the delta between the two awards was insufficient given earlier rulings had found Eritrea violated the jus ad bellum in originally resorting to force in 1998. For its part, Eritrea remains miffed that Ethiopia has resisted the Commission’s drawing of boundary lines between the two states (e.g. giving Badme to Eritrea), a point reiterated (subtly) in its acceptance of yesterday’s award.

I'm sure that Hollis is right on both of these counts: both sides think they are in the right, but the fact of the matter is that both are responsible for not implementing parts of the peace agreement, and for forcing the premature departure of a UN peacekeeping force last year.

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Another attack on UN personnel

That it occurred in Somalia, which has seen far too many deaths of UN workers, should come as no surprise. But this time, the UN fought back.

Suspected Islamist insurgents stormed a United Nations compound overnight in southern Somalia, witnesses said on Monday, but UN guards fought back and killed three of the attackers in a gun battle.

One UN official in Wajid, 70km northwest of Baidoa, said about 10 heavily armed men attacked them overnight. The compound is used for storing humanitarian aid.

"After several minutes shooting our security guards repulsed the attackers and killed three of them," the UN official told Reuters.

While it was very fortunate that no UN personnel were killed (one guard was injured), it must be said that this success should not be taken as a policy blueprint. UN guards are not meant to defend against bands of militants, and it's only a matter of time until an incident like this goes much, much worse.

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US State Department’s Africa Bureau Takes Some Heat

The US State Department’s Africa Bureau (known in US government lingo as AF) took quite a beating in a recent report from State’s Office of the Inspector General. Elizabeth Dickenson on Foreign Policy's Cable blog has a review, and the full report can be found on the State Department website. On the whole, I think the OIG report is disturbingly accurate, and I am impressed that State actually published it.

I also strongly suspect that the troubles aren’t limited to Africa Bureau – they’re just the ones who were looked at. Sure, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Fraser took a lot of criticism for her handling of AF, but this report was focused on April-June 2009. They’d had five months to recover at that point.

 A few highlights from the report:

 1) Apparently it’s difficult to staff Africa postings, because of “perceptions about the poor quality of living abroad and insufficient hardship or danger pay.” That’s just depressing.

 2) “Embassy platforms are collapsing under the weight of new programs and staffing without corresponding resources to provide the services required.” That is true not just of Africa embassies, but across the globe. It’s what happens when you underfund the State Department.

 3) There is a lack of focus on long-term strategies, and the focus is on putting out fires and scoring quick victories, not broader thinking. Once again, a problem that afflicts the whole department, not just AF.

 4) Lastly, apparently Africa Bureau’s not getting along with AFRICOM. And the reasons, while depressing, make perfect sense. AFRICOM’s got all the money, State is ambivalent about the military’s role in development, and no one has received any training on how to work together.

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In case you thought things in Somalia (still) couldn’t get any worse…

...the International Crisis Group warns that something is rotten in the state semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

If its government does not enact meaningful reforms and reach out to all clans, Puntland may break up violently, adding to the chaos in Somalia.

Somalia: The Trouble with Puntland, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns about the rise in insecurity and political tension that the semi-autonomous north-eastern region has been experiencing for three years. At its roots are poor governance and a collapse of the cohesion, particularly within the Harti clan, that led to its creation a decade ago.

"Most of the blame rests squarely with the political leadership", says Daniela Kroslak, Deputy Director of Crisis Group’s Africa Program. "If a wide variety of grievances are not urgently tackled in a comprehensive manner, the consequences could be severe for the whole country and even for the Horn of Africa".

Puntland is most widely known as the onshore haven to many of Somalia's pirates. Piracy, though, the report argues, is "only a dramatic symptom" of Puntland's problems, and I'd add that the instability in Puntland itself is only a "symptom" of the greater chaos in Somalia writ large.

Puntland is probably wishing that it had some of the good reputation of Somalia's more successful semi-autonomous region, Somaliland, which some commentators have argued could provide a model of how to organize the country as a whole.

(image from Wikimedia Commons)