Uganda and North Africa

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has, it seems, been paying attention to the “Arab spring” since it began. During the Ugandan presidential elections in February, in which Museveni won a fourth official term, government authorities banned the use of certain words in text messaging. These included “Egypt”, “bullet,” “people power,” “Tunisia”, “Mubarak”, “dictator”, “teargas”, “army”, “police”, “gun”, “Ben Ali” and “UPDF,” the last term being the acronym of the Ugandan armed forces.

Not too long afterward, NATION intervened in Libya, and Museveni was upset. In late March, he wrote a widely circulated article for Foreign Policy in which he cited double standards in the West’s treatment of Libya (versus, for example, Bahrain), lamented what he saw as the bypassing of the African Union in the decisionmaking process, and expressed concern about the potentially long-lasting, negative consequences of the intervention. Whether one agrees with Museveni or not (and I do on some issues), the point is that Museveni seems to fear how the “Arab spring” might reshape African politics.

During the spring, Uganda saw the “Walk to Work” movement, in which opposition leader Kizza Besigye mobilized hundreds to protest high food and fuel prices. These protests were primarily related to domestic troubles, rather than foreign influences, but the harshness of the government crackdown hinted that “the nearby Arab Spring revolutions can’t be far from Museveni’s mind.”

This week, Ugandan activists made explicit reference to the North African revolutions:

Pressure group Activists 4 Change wants to hold a rally in the capital Kampala on Friday to “celebrate people power in North Africa” following the overthrow of the leaders of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The group has emailed invitations accompanied by a flyer featuring photos of the toppled rulers crossed out — with Uganda’s long-serving President Yoweri Museveni lined up as the next to go.

Police banned the rally. If activists push forward, as they have in the past, there could be bloodshed again.

Talk of an “African spring” has largely crested and fallen. President Blaise Compaore retained power in Burkina Faso, the sub-Saharan African country which experienced perhaps the most serious protests this year. Gabon’s President Ali Bongo withstood major protests there. Museveni is unlikely to fall any time soon. And leaders who look vulnerable, like Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade, are not under threat so much because of contagion from North Africa, but because pent-up local grievances are coming to the fore amid (pre-)electoral campaigning.

Still, the “Arab spring” has changed the way activists in countries like Uganda frame their demands and view heads of state. And it has changed how heads of state view their own position. Going forward, both sides will likely continue to mull over the lessons of the North African revolutions, with each side trying to stay once step ahead of the other on the organizational, technological, and political levels.

Burkina Faso, Chad, and Sudan Recognize Libya’s Transitional National Council

Yesterday, news that Burkina Faso had offered sanctuary to Libya’s Colonel Moammar Qadhafi got some attention. Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore has a long and close relationship with the Colonel, so the exile offer wasn’t a big surprise. Also unsurprising, but perhaps more significant, was the news that Burkina Faso and Chad have recognized the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) in Libya.

As recipients of Gaddafi’s largesse during his decades in power, the governments in Ouagadougou and N’Djamena had previously been hesitant about taking sides the conflict.

Libya’s rebels have often accused neighbouring Chad of backing Gaddafi by sending mercenaries to put down the uprising, a charge denied by N’Djamena.

But a council delegation was in Chad on Wednesday when Moussa Dago, secretary general for Chad’s foreign affairs ministry, recognised its authority and called on it to protect Chadian interests in the country.

Chad had been moving in that direction for months.

Burkina Faso and Chad join Sudan, which according to a few sources (English and Arabic) has also recognized the TNC. These shifts mean that most of the Sahel has decided to back the TNC either officially or unofficially. From what I can tell, Mali and Niger are still hesitating, a hesitation that becomes more conspicuous as the pool of TNC supporters grows. Barring a wild military reversal, I imagine that Mali and Niger will eventually recognize the TNC, but it is interesting to think about whether the order of who recognizes the TNC says anything about who is most nervous about a post-Qadhafi future. Perhaps Mali and Niger are now watching Burkina Faso and evaluating the success of Compaore’s attempt to preserve an old friendship, while still acknowledging a new reality.

Cameroon Looks Toward Elections as Incumbents in Africa Face Popular Anger

If I were an African incumbent facing re-election, I would feel pretty good about my chances: in the past year, presidents like Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan have won solid victories over divided oppositions. But I would not be eager to face the popular anger that has dogged incumbents this year. In Burkina Faso, civilian protests and soldiers’ mutinies shook Compaore’s regime from late February through early June. Museveni cruised to re-election in February only to see the world-famous “Walk to Work” movement spring up weeks later. Jonathan’s April electoral triumph was followed by riots in Northern Nigeria. In Senegal, incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade last week withdrew a set of proposed constitutional changes because of the backlash they generated.

Yaoundé

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Cameroonian President Paul Biya is a veteran politician. But at 78 years old, and with over twenty-eight years in power, he is the type of figure that protesters, especially in Senegal and Uganda, have been rejecting in 2011. That does not mean Biya will lose when Cameroon holds its presidential elections in October – after all, he has won three multi-party elections (1992, 1997, and 2004), including a close contest in 1992, and he maintained power through the mass protests of 2008, which concerned high costs of living as well as Biya’s decision to remove constitutional term limits on his tenure. Biya is still the favorite to win. But if the current wave of dissatisfaction with (in particular West) African incumbents lasts through the fall, Biya’s victory might come at the price of serious popular anger.

US officials recognize this potential. While calls from Washington for African countries to hold free and fair elections are pretty standard, I find it noteworthy that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson has taken pains, over three months before Cameroon holds its elections, to raise concerns:

Carson met with Cameroon president Paul Biya and the country’s prime minister during a visit and urged the leaders to hold a free and fair election, a statement from the U.S. Embassy said.

[...]

“He (Carson) said…that any intimidation of presidential candidates and leaders of civil society by governmental authorities in the run up to the elections will be viewed by the international community as having a negative impact on the credibility of the electoral process,” [the statement] said.

With political tensions swirling, Cameroon’s external borrowing increasing, and inflation mounting across much of Africa, Cameroon has many of the ingredients that produced protests elsewhere. That possibility has clearly already occurred to officials in Washington, and likely it is a topic of discussion in Yaounde as well.

Sahelian Leaders Look to a Post-Qadhafi Libya

During his long rule Colonel Moammar Qadhafi has exercised substantial influence over Africa. The Colonel has aided client regimes, helped bring rulers to power or ruin, and intervened in conflicts as participant or peacemaker. As this map shows, his influence has been particularly pronounced in Sahelian countries like Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad.

The civil war in Libya has dramatically affected the Sahel: Niger and other countries are absorbing thousands of refugees, Sahelians are being accused of serving as pro-Qadhafi mercenaries, Libyan weapons have reportedly traveled south, and money flows have been disrupted or altered. Perhaps reflecting the interlinked fates of Libya and the Sahel, the latter has been well represented in the African Union’s peace efforts, providing two of the five members of the AU’s committee on Libya (they are President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of Mauritania, who chairs the committee, and President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali). This AU group, at least initially, tried to broker a peace that would have allowed Qadhafi to remain in power.

Given all that, it is significant to see several Sahelian leaders begin to speak about – and act to bring about – a post-Qadhafi Libya. Senegal appears to have led the trend, with President Abdoulaye Wade establishing relations with the Libyan rebels in mid-May. Last week, Wade met with rebel leaders in Benghazi and said that Qadhafi should step down. Gambia also recognizes the rebels. Wade’s call for a transition was seconded last week by Mauritania’s Abdel Aziz, who said that Qadhafi’s “departure has become necessary.” With this, Abdel Aziz seemed to speak for the African Union as a whole. Another Sahelian leader, Chad’s President Idriss Deby, soon added his voice to the chorus. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki met on the sidelines of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) forum in Zambia last week, and afterwards Clinton announced that “the Chadian government does not support Gadhafi.”

To say there is an emerging Sahelian consensus against Qadhafi would be going too far. I have not seen a statement from Mali’s Toure calling for Qadhafi’s resignation, nor to my knowledge has newly elected Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou gone beyond calling for a solution to the crisis (without stating a preference on who rules Libya). President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, according to one source, has continued to proclaim solidarity with Qadhafi. And further east, Sudanese President Omar al Bashir has not demanded Qadhafi’s ouster either. So if the baseline position among Sahelian leaders three or four months ago was support for Qadhafi, or neutrality, many of them have not moved. But the movement that has occurred in the region has been toward breaking with the Colonel.

AFP has discussed the Senegalese and Mauritanian statements in the context of a larger African shift away from Qadhafi. Attention to the Sahelian context is also important, though, as Qadhafi’s departure could affect the Sahel more than any other region in Africa. The calculated risks that Wade, Abdel Aziz, and Deby are taking indicate that the political landscape in the Sahel has already shifted even though Qadhafi still clings to power. These decisions also suggest some confidence on the part of Sahelian leaders that siding with Qadhafi’s foes is a better bet than staying neutral, or continuing to support the Colonel on the chance that he might weather the storm. If and when Qadhafi does go, the relationships forged in this time of crisis, both between the Sahelian countries and the rebels as well as among the Sahelian countries themselves, will influence the direction of regional relations in the future.

Burkina Faso: Compaore Regime Moves to Halt Protests

Throughout months of student protests, soldiers’ mutinies, merchants’ demonstrations, and other anti-regime actions, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore has employed a mixed strategy of offering concessions, reorganizing the government, promising talks, and using repression. On June 2-3, Compaore used force against mutinous soldiers for the first time, sending his presidential guard into Bobo-Dioulasso, the country’s economic capital, where mutineers had been rampaging for three days. In the aftermath of that crackdown, Compaore is taking steps that seem geared toward preventing any further protests, especially mutinies.

The hard might of the fist and the soft touch of the glove are both being felt in Bobo-Dioulasso now. Dozens of mutineers – 93, AFP reports – have been arrested there, and many will face prosecution. This move raises the stakes: would-be mutineers now know that the regime may punish them severely, as opposed to the lighter treatment mutineers got from March through May. But with force, Compaore may be able to dissuade soldiers from protesting.

The move appears to have some popular support:

Many in the capital, Ouagadougou, expressed support for the government’s actions.

This resident says the government’s reaction was late but necessary. Enough is enough, he says. Those soldiers who would rob, destroy public property and attack women are no longer soldiers and should be dealt with.

Meanwhile, the regime is trying to reduce tensions in Bobo-Dioulasso through its continued campaign of outreach to civilians:

A government delegation on Monday arrived in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso’s second biggest city, to appease  the population…The delegation, led by the minister of Territorial Administration, Decentralization and Security, Jérôme Bougouma, includes the ministers of Civil Service, Soungalo Ouattara, Justice, Jérôme Traoré, and Social Action, Clémence Traoré. It visited the family of the 14-year old girl killed by a stray bullet, the religious and community leaders and those injured and on admission at the university hospital of Sourou Sanou and announced that the government would compensate victims of the mutiny.

The number of ministers who came and the symbolic actions the delegation took show how intent the regime is on properly managing the aftermath of the mutiny. This may not be enough – merchants whose property was damaged want compensation soon, one source says – but the regime is trying hard to cut out the roots of further civilian protests.

The protests and mutinies in Burkina Faso have come in bursts and there may be more ahead. But the regime’s approach in Bobo-Dioulasso says to me that they are keen to end this protest season here, rather than riding it out as they seemed to be doing before.

For more reading on the protests, see here.

Burkina Faso: Mutiny, Protest in Bobo-Dioulasso

Burkina Faso has been experiencing mutinies by soldiers and protests by students, merchants, and workers for months now, but the situation in the country’s second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, sounds like it is really getting out of control:

Soldiers…fired shots in the air during a third day of unrest as shopkeepers protested the troops’ looting of their stores.

The firing started overnight at a military base in the city and continued today, said resident Karim Cisse in a phone interview. A 6 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew was issued for the city, according to a statement read on state-owned television.

The conflict in Bobo Dioulasso comes amid a series of army protests over delayed pay and allowances.

AFP has more details:

Soldiers left their camp again midday on Thursday, firing shots in the air while some rode on motorcycles through several neighbourhoods, a resident told AFP.

The local public radio and television station closed its broadcast centre after a group of soldiers arrived hoping to broadcast a message.

A resident told AFP that by Thursday evening the town was deserted with all shops closed.

Between the soldiers, who are angry at the regime over unpaid salaries, and the merchants, who are angry at the regime for failing to control the soldiers, President Blaise Compaore is facing huge pressures from various directions. Drew Hinshaw says Compaore’s time may be up, but Compaore is one of the region’s savviest leaders and he’s already weathered weeks of unrest. What do you think will happen?

Africa News Roundup: Uganda Protests, Nigerian Elections, AQIM Meeting, and More

Uganda’s “Walk to Work” protests have taken on greater political intensity amid repeated arrests of an opposition leader and a crackdown from government security forces. Reuters and the New York Times report.

Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has won a number of seats in the gubernatorial elections this week, including the opposition stronghold of Kano, but opposition parties have won seats in state assemblies.

Remittances from Senegalese workers living abroad made up 10% of the country’s GDP last year.

Representatives of Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Algeria met in Bamako, Mali yesterday to discuss counterterrorism efforts against Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

North and South Sudan continue to argue about who will claim the oil-rich region of Abyei.

The war of words between Ethiopia and Eritrea continues.

As diverse social groups protest in Burkina Faso, it appears that the police and the army, at least, might accept mediation after meeting with President Blaise Compaore:

Some 400 soldiers, non-commissioned officers and officers met Compaore Friday to discuss their concerns.

“I think the representatives of the different army bodies are aware that they have created unease both for the military and society which must be rectified so we can start afresh,” Compaore told journalists after the meeting.

He expressed confidence “that things will improve, will change”. He said the soldiers “were really committed to no longer succumb to the indiscipline that has characterized their behavior in recent times”.

NTV Kenya reports on the impact that increased Kenyan security measures and a Somali government offensive are having in Somalia’s border regions:

Another Round of Protests in Burkina Faso

Despite intense efforts by President Blaise Compaore to resolve the political crisis in Burkina Faso, diverse social groups continue to hold protests, especially security forces, merchants, and students. The social and geographical extent of the unrest continues to represent a serious threat to the regime.

Yesterday, a number of events happened in different places in the country. Police in the capital, Ouagadougou, mutinied. The police officers’ mutiny follows several uprisings by disgruntled soldiers. Despite Compoare’s move to take direct control over the security forces, it is clear that many rank-and-file soldiers and policemen are fed up with their working conditions.

Koudougou, a city in the west, also saw protests yesterday:

Merchants set fire to the mayor’s home, the police headquarters and several other buildings. They were protesting an official’s decision to shut about 40 stores in Koudougou’s central market over unpaid rent.

These actions by merchants follow earlier demonstrations by businessmen over the looting done by disaffected soldiers. Not all of Burkina Faso’s protesters are working together, but the problems of different social groups are increasingly interconnected. And just as protests by security forces threaten Compaore’s control over the military aspect of power, protests by merchants undermine the regime’s credibility in the economic sphere. The trigger for the protests – the closure of shops by a government official – also highlights the tensions between merchants and the government.

The merchants protesting in Koudougou found kindred spirits in Bobo-Dioulasso, a city even further west where cotton growers marched yesterday to protest low cotton prices. Cotton growers have even “threatened to boycott the crop season,” a move that could exacerbate tensions in the country, and that could spread the protest movements beyond their urban bases and more into rural areas.

Students, who have played a role in the protest movement since its beginnings in February, apparently joined in some of yesterday’s protests.

Protests are coming now in waves, a trend that has so far given Compaore time to improvise. Probably wisely, he has not resorted to brutal repression of demonstrators. His adjustments have so far prevented his fall, but have not halted the protests. Indeed, dissatisfaction is spreading. Whether Compaore can stay in power seems to be an open question.

Here is a map of Burkina Faso, with (left to right) Bob0-Dioulasso, Koudougou, and Ouagadougou marked:

Africa News Roundup: Senegal, Nigeria, Niger, China in Africa, and More

Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade continues with his plans to seek re-election in 2012.

Nigerians will vote in state elections on Tuesday. Following last week’s riots, the government has deployed more troops and closed the borders. Defeated presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, meanwhile, continues to draw criticism, and was recently banned from entering Niger State.

Dele Olojede, publisher of Nigeria’s Next, has an op-ed in the New York Times on the presidential elections that is well worth reading.

In the country of Niger, the new President Mahamdou Issoufou has appointed his cabinet.

AFP reports on AQIM’s latest (alleged) activities in the Sahel:

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is building a new base in Mali near the Mauritanian border, with a view to attacking that country, security sources said Thursday.

“We have learned that vehicles are transporting AQIM fighters into the Wagadou forest, in a zone situated in the east in the Malian district of Nara, not far from the Mauritanian border. It is a new base they are installing,” one of the security sources told AFP.

In Burkina Faso, where there is ongoing unrest among soldiers, students, merchants, and others, President Blaise Compaore has appointed himself as defense minister.

Mr Compaore revealed the move in a cabinet reshuffle announced on national television.

Last week, he ordered bonuses for soldiers, sacked the head of the army and dismissed the government in a bid to reassert his authority.

New army chief Gen Honore Nabere Traore said mutineers would meet Mr Compaore.

“The crises are heading toward a solution,” Gen Traore said on public radio, adding that officials had “found adequate responses” to the mutineers’ demands.

in the Guardian, Joshua Rozenberg writes, “Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo is the best asset of those opposed to the international criminal court.”

The Economist has some handy charts on China’s trade with Africa.

What are you reading today?

Burkina Faso: The Protest/Mutiny Movement is Not Over

Following a soldiers’ mutiny and a merchants’ street protest in Burkina Faso last week, the regime of President Blaise Compaore continues to face uncertainty.

The capital, Ouagadougou, is apparently “calm”:

Few shops were open [Sunday] in Burkina Faso’s capital, but cars and motorbikes returned to the streets after President Blaise Compaore’s government imposed an overnight curfew when merchants rioted because mutinous soldiers looted their shops.

Yet elsewhere, soldiers continue to revolt:

Soldiers rampaged in southern Burkina Faso on Sunday, firing shots into the air, stealing vehicles and ransacking shops in continued protest over pay, witnesses said.

[...]

Residents said the rampage began on Saturday night and continued into Sunday, adding that some of the soldiers fired on the residence of a local commander. Hospital sources said at least two people were treated for bullet wounds. Soldiers across the country have been stepping up protests in recent weeks over pay, and members of the Presidential Guard charged with protecting Compaore fired weapons into the air late last week near the presidential palace in Ouagadougou.

Compaore, who has already fired his cabinet, has now dismissed other key personnel in order to assuage grievances: “General Kodji Lougue of the land forces, General Abraham Traore of the air force and Colonel Zambo Martin Zongo of the police were replaced by their assistants, according to a statement broadcast on national television.”

This is not over yet.