Update on Cholera Outbreaks in West Africa

Cholera is a recurring problem in parts of West Africa, but this year it has caused even more alarm than usual. An outbreak in Gao, northern Mali, along with elevated numbers of cases in other parts of the region, has drawn major concern. More background here.

One zone of concern is Niger, which has recently suffered a one-two punch of floods and cholera:

Floods in Niger have killed 81 people since July, the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs announced Thursday, adding cholera outbreaks have killed a further 81 people.

[…]

Cholera is spreading fast in at least four places, making 3,854 people sick and notably affecting the Tillaberi regions lying by the Niger river and close to the border with Mali, OCHA said.

In the provinces and in the capital, where the Niger river level is rising significantly, most of the people stricken by flooding are being housed mainly in schools, as well as mosques and public buildings.

OCHA’s Niger page is available in French here.

Some worry that the cholera epidemic in Niger could spread to neighboring Burkina Faso (French).

Meanwhile, some coastal West Africa countries are experiencing major cholera outbreaks. By late August, some 12,500 people had contracted cholera in Sierra Leone, and the disease had killed 224. The Financial Timeswrote, “The World Health Organisation estimates the number of cases could reach 32,000, with the outbreak peaking towards the end of September. The mortality rate of 1.8 per cent is almost double the emergency threshold.” This is Sierra Leone’s worst outbreak since 1994. Cholera has also struck in Guinea, with nearly 6,000 cases and over 100 deaths, in the worst outbreak since 2007.

The World Health Organization, Doctors Without Borders, and the Red Cross/Red Crescent are working to vaccinate people in affected countries and treat victims. But the epidemic, it seems, is still growing, adding to the tragedies West Africa is facing this year.

Three Recent Coups in West Africa and How They Played Out

Many questions still surround the ongoing attempted military takeover in Mali: What motivated it? Will there be a counter-coup? What does it mean? What are its implications for the rebellion in the north and the future of Malian democracy? What are its implications for other countries? Answers to these questions will take shape over time, and Mali will follow its own path. In the meantime it is useful to think about other recent military coups in West Africa and how they played out.

The coups in question took place in Mauritania (2008), Guinea (2008), and Niger (2010), all of which border Mali. One commonality is that all three countries experienced coups at moments of perceived crisis. Another commonality is that they all eventually held elections. However, each took a different path towards its coup and towards the resolution of the coup. One key takeaway, indeed, is that coups can follow very different trajectories.

The order is chronological. This post fleshes out – and adds to – arguments I made here.

Mauritania

Mauritania‘s history, following the end of one-party rule in 1978, includes four successful coups: 1978, 1984, 2005, and 2008. While the coups of 1978 and 1984 installed military regimes, the 2005 coup was motivated by increasing domestic tension under the rule of Colonel Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya. This tension stemmed partly from Ould Taya’s limited toleration for democratization. The coup leaders organized open elections, and a civilian president was in 2007. Feelings within parts of the military leadership that the civilian regime was politically fecklessness and weak, especially in the face of a perceived Islamist and jihadist threat, prompted a coup in August 2008. The leader of that coup, General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, had been a key participant in the 2005 coup. In 2009, the junta oversaw presidential elections. Abdel Aziz ran as a civilian and won. He remains in power today.

Guinea

Guinea has had two successful coups: one in 1984, at the death of independence-era leader President Sekou Toure, and one in December 2008, at the death of President Lansana Conte, who came to power in the coup of 1984. The junta installed in 2008 was led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. Camara promised that elections would take place and that he would not stand, but tensions rose as his promises came to appear hollow and his behavior became erratic. In September 2009, soldiers brutally cracked down on an opposition rally in the capital. Then, in December 2009, one of Camara’s guards shot him in the head. The junta leader lived, but was flown to Morocco, later to Burkina Faso, and was not permitted to re-enter Guinea. Power passed to General Sekouba Konate, who oversaw a two-round election in June/November 2010. The elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud. The winner, long-time opposition leader Alpha Conde, is still president.

Niger

In Niger, four successful coups have occurred: the 1974 coup that overthrew independence-era President Hamani Diori; a 1996 coup that installed Colonel Ibrahim Mainassara after several attempted civilian governments; the 1999 assassination of Mainassara by his bodyguards, who then organized civilian elections which were won by President Mamadou Tandja; and the February 2010 coup that ousted Tandja after he amended the constitution and remained in power beyond his original two-term limit. The 2010 coup, led by Colonel Salou Djibo, shows continuities with the 1999 coup: Djibo’s junta, appearing to consider itself the referee of Nigerien democracy, relatively quickly organized civilian elections. This two-round contest, held in January/March 2011, was won by opposition leader and current President Mahamadou Issoufou.

Conclusion

What lessons do these examples offer? I can think of four:

  1. These coups came out of (perceived) crisis. In addition to the big triggers I mention above – a sense of civilian incompetence in the face of threats, the death of a long-time leader, or the refusal of a leader to leave office – other problems were at work in each case, ones that civilian leaders struggled to deal with. Mauritania was juggling domestic unrest, non-violent Islamist political activism, and jihadist violence. Guinea saw military mutinies in 2008. Niger had experienced drought and famine. Military leaders seized power, it seems, in part because they feared further such situations would deteriorate further. This seems to have been the case in Mali as well.
  2. Coup leaders quickly adopted the rhetoric of democracy. Within months if not days of taking power, these military juntas were promising elections and, in Mauritania and Niger, working to organize them. This, too, holds for Mali, at least at the rhetorical level; vague promises to restore democracy have already surfaced.
  3. (Promises of) elections served different purposes for each junta. In Guinea, many came to see Camara’s promises as a tactic he exploited to delay having to clarify his status and his intentions. In Mauritania, elections brought a large measure of continuity. Some protesters in Mauritania believe the elections did not really end military rule; in this view, elections were an exercise Abdel Aziz went through to legitimate his rule. In Niger, finally, the junta lived up to its promises, and its leaders did not compete in the election. With Mali, how this junta will use/abuse the promise of democracy will be a key question.
  4. Coup leaders who cause chaos are overthrown in coups. I take this observation from the case of Camara (who only survived by luck) in Guinea and that of Mainassara in Niger. It arguably also applies to Ould Taya in Mauritania and even to General Sani Abacha in Nigeria, who rumor says was poisoned by treachery in 1998. In each case, the new military leaders exemplified a more sober style of leadership and transitioned fairly quickly to civilian democracy. The implication for Mali’s new junta, then, is that if they are seen to be dragging the country further into chaos and dragging their feet on democracy, there could be yet another coup in the coming years.

What implications for Mali do you see in these other cases?

International Crisis Group on Accountability in Guinea

[I’m still at the African Studies Association conference, which has been exciting so far. I got some great questions from the audience after I presented my paper on Nigerian Islamist intellectuals, I met some people doing fascinating research on Nigeria and elsewhere, and I attended an informative panel on Sudan. The internet connection is good at my hotel, but posting will probably stay light through the weekend since there is so much to do here. – Alex]

As Guinea declares a state of emergency following the post-election violence, International Crisis Group notes the participation of security forces in the violence and calls for accountability:

The active participation of the military — beating, molesting and shooting defenceless civilians and destroying their property — has changed the dynamics of the violence. One observer in the northern town of Labe told Crisis Group that armed soldiers were patrolling neighbourhoods and openly threatening civilians. Also, there are reports of Red Beret soldiers, notorious for human rights abuses, roaming in Peul neighborhoods in Conakry and hunting down Peul businessmen. At least twelve people were reported to have been killed in Conakry, and shots were heard in several other cities.

If Guinea’s security and defence forces do not enforce greater discipline in their ranks, the country could quickly descend into further chaos. The possibility that the violence could feed into broader ethnic tensions within the army cannot be ruled out. Guinea’s interim president, General Sékouba Konaté, and the Prime Minister, Jean-Marie Doré, must recognise that a violent crackdown on defenceless Peuls would severely damage their credentials and likely lead to open ethnic conflict. Continued violence would ruin Guinea’s transition process and endanger the prospects of substantial investment that could help stabilise the country.

The ethnicization of the conflict is getting scary.

After Conde Victory, What Next for Guinea?

On Monday, Guinea’s electoral commission declared opposition leader Alpha Conde the victor of a drawn-out presidential election contest. The win represents an “extraordinary comeback” for Conde, in the words of Michael Tantoh

After winning a dismal 18 percent of votes in the first round of the election – against former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo’s 43 percent – Condé’s turnaround strategy saw him beat his rival with 52,52 percent of the vote. Diallo won 47.48 percent.

Conditions changed dramatically in the four months between the first and second rounds, a period during which Condé fought tooth and nail to obtain a more transparent and credible electoral commission.

Radio France Internationale reports that on the political front, he formed alliances with 16 parties which lost in the first round, enabling him to win in three of the four regions in the country and in four of the five communes in the capital, Conakry.

Reuters has more on Conde, including the stories of his previous runs for the presidency. From the little I have read, it sounds like his victory this year was in the works since as long ago as 1993, when he may have won (though not officially) a disputed election.

Conde’s victory is not, however, the end of the story. Dissension, and now violence, have followed the announcement of the provisional results.

First, Diallo has also declared victory.

Second, in a country divided by ethnicity, he is framing his objections to the vote in implicitly ethnic terms:

Diallo’s party, the ethnic-Peul-led Union for the Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), have alleged voter fraud at several polling stations where voting totals were greater than registered voters. Diallo specifically vowed to contest “the inclusion of any results from Siguiri,” where hundreds of ethnic Peuls were chased from their homes in the lead-up to elections.

Although the displaced Peuls eventually were granted the right to vote in a protocol agreed upon by both parties, Diallo claims his party observers were denied access during voting and could not therefore certify its transparency.

His refusal to recognize the region of Siguiri is of critical importance: either party’s victory hinges on it.

Third, Diallo’s supporters have taken to violence:

In Conakry’s Bambeto suburb, riot police clashed with Diallo supporters, who rushed forward forward in small groups to throw stones before being driven back by tear gas.

At the Donka Hospital, 66 people from the fighting have been admitted since Monday morning. Sixteen are in critical condition and many have gunshot wounds.

Both candidates are calling for victory, but the ethnicization of the dispute continues on both sides: Conde’s supporters from different ethnic groups have also expressed their allegiance to him in ethnic terms.

So, what comes next?

I would bet on Conde retaining his title. International observers considered the vote largely free and fair, and the UN has called on all parties to accept the results.

But the conflicts underlying the presidential race will not be easily settled. It seems Conde will enter office amidst violence and allegations of illegitimacy, potentially undermining his domestic political capital from the start. A conflict-torn country like Guinea would benefit from a sense of national unity, but that will not come overnight.

France24 reports on the situation: