Journalists’ Syndicate Protests in Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, state media employees are dissatisfied with their working conditions and the censorship they reportedly face. The Autonomous Syndicate of Information and Culture Workers (SYNATIC) organized demonstrations on July 16 in Ouagadougou (French), the political capital, and Bobo-Dioulasso (French), a major economic center. In Ouagadougou, the journalists staged a sit-in by the Ministry of Communications, and in Bobo-Dioulasso they rallied in front of the regional government building.

From the blog of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which adds that the Association of Journalists of Burkina helped organize the sit-ins:

It was the first time that journalists from state-run media have publicly broken their collective silence over what the public has long believed to be entrenched practices of editorial direction and control by official censors. The show of discontent was the latest in a series of recent demonstrations by various segments of society opposing government policies and protesting the standard of living, according to news reports.

The government tried to dismiss accusations of tampering with news coverage after the sit-in was announced. “I have never given directives to anybody,” Communications Minister and Government Spokesman Alain Edouard Traoré declared at a press conference on Monday, according to RTB. He said the station “operates in total independence” from his office. “We do not constitute a ministry of propaganda,” private news site Burkina 24 quoted him as saying.

During the first half of 2011, Burkina Faso experienced waves of protests and mutinies that drew serious concern from the government of President Blaise Compaore. The current protests have not yet reached nearly the same level of seriousness. Yet when journalists protest in Burkina Faso, it is worth paying attention. For one thing, the assassination of the journalist Norbert Zongo in 1998 continues to cast a shadow over relations between the state, the press, and the people. Protests against censorship, in other words, speak to broader tensions in the country.

Portraits of Malian Refugee Camps in Niger, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso

Alongside armed conflict in northern Mali, Mali and its neighbors are experiencing a refugee crisis. I keep bringing this up in an effort to ensure that the scale of the crisis will not be ignored. UNHCR’s country pages for Mali and Mauritania show that massive numbers of people have been displaced: over 200,000 inside Mali, 70,000 Malian refugees in Mauritania, 50,000 in Niger, and 40,000 in Burkina Faso. Those numbers are all expected to rise by year’s end, to a total of approximately 540,000.

A few portraits from camps:

Niger:

The Mangaïze camp was officially created in May, following an influx of a large number of Malian families fleeing to Niger, said Idrissa Abou, a member of Niger’s National Commission for Refugees.
Besides a monthly food ration, refugees have access to drinking water from three small boreholes and primary health care. There are sanitation facilities with 250 showers and toilets, and a household waste management system. Refugees also have access to administrative services, a school and, with the opening of a police station, a security service.

“At the moment, there are 1,522 families, which amounts to a population of 6,037 mainly made up of Malian refugees, but there are also Nigerien returnees,” Abou told IPS, adding that an overwhelming majority of the refugees are from Ménaka, the closest Malian town to the Ouallam municipality in south-western Niger. He added that the numbers in the camp had increased in February after some 1,700 refugees from the nearby Bani Bangou camp were transferred to Mangaïze.

Mauritania:

Nearly 67,000 refugees—mainly women and children—have arrived in the border town of Fassala, Mauritania, since January 2012. “At the border crossing at Fassala, Mauritania, people are arriving thirsty and showing signs of fatigue,” explains Karl Nawezi, MSF project manager in Mauritania. After being registered by the authorities, refugees wait in a transit camp before being transferred to Mbera, a small, isolated village in the Mauritanian desert, just 30 kilometers [about 19 miles] from the Mali border.

The refugees in Mbera are totally dependent on humanitarian aid. An insufficient number of tents has been distributed, however. Families are assembled under large tents called “meeting points” that leave them exposed to the elements. Fed up with waiting, some construct their own makeshift shelters out of straw mats and pieces of fabric to protect themselves from sand and dust storms. “In Mauritania, as is the case elsewhere [in the Sahel refugee camps], people are suffering from diarrhea, respiratory infections, and skin infections because of the poor conditions in the camps,” says Nawezi.

And France24 has a video report from Burkina Faso here.

Plans for US Surveillance Drones in Niger

News outlets reported this week that the government of Niger has given the United States permission to base surveillance drones there. Reuters:

The U.S. ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, made the request at a meeting on Monday with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, [a government] source said.

“Niger has given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the source said.

The crisis in Mali seems to be one major factor in generating US interest in having a base in Niger.

More here from the AP, which says the agreement came “after months of negotiations.”

This passage from Stars and Stripes offers further insight into why the US military chose Niger:

U.S. officials have announced no details about basing plans in Niger, but acknowledge the ability to operate out of the country, which is developing increasingly close diplomatic and defense ties with the United States, would place military assets close to many hot spots.

“Just consider the neighborhood,” a U.S. military official speaking on the condition of anonymity said. “Libya to the north, where there’s been instability. Nigeria, and [Islamist militant group] Boko Haram directly south. Algeria, where there was just an attack, and Mali to the west.”

Establishing a base for drones in Niger would add to existing US military infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa. The Washington Post reported last June on a “a network of [approximately one dozen] small air bases” that the US military had set up in Africa since 2007, with Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou constituting a “key hub” in this network. The Stars and Stripes article mentioned above quotes Dr. Peter Pham as saying that alleged complications surrounding the base in Burkina Faso may have limited US capacity to operate drones in and around Mali:

Insufficient infrastructure in western Africa could be one reason the U.S. is not engaged in drone strikes in places such as northern Mali, according to some experts.

[...]

“Part of this probably is linked to the reported withdrawal of country clearance by the embassy in Bamako for manned surveillance flights from the formerly clandestine program in Burkina Faso,” said the Atlantic Council’s Pham. “And yet another part might indeed be the reluctance of potential partners to allow operations from their territory after the way the program in Burkina Faso was exposed.”

Despite having some infrastructure in place in Africa, then, US military planners seem to be looking for greater flexibility and capacity.

US military cooperation with Niger is not new. Niger participated in the Pan Sahel Initiative, a counterterrorism program led by the State Department from 2002 to 2005 that included Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and Chad. Niger also participates in the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, a US government interagency program (State, Defense, USAID) that replaced and expanded the Pan Sahel Initiative. Niger receives assistance under the International Military Education and Training program as well.

For an official perspective on US-Nigerien relations, see here, and AFRICOM’s Niger page is here. I have not yet found much in the way of Nigerien reactions to the news, but President Issoufou’s site has a brief note (French) on his meeting with the American Ambassador, while a Nigerien news site has a story, seemingly based largely on information reported in the international media, here (French).

What do you think of this news? What are the possible benefits and risks?

Burkina Faso: After “Coupled Elections,” A Shifting Political Landscape

On December 2, Burkina Faso held “coupled” legislative and municipal elections. Legislative results can be found here, and municipal results here (.pdf, French). In the legislative elections, the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) won 70 of 127 seats in the National Assembly, a slight decline from when it won 73 of 111 seats in the last elections in 2007. The new president of the National Assembly is outgoing cabinet minister and current CDP member Soungalo Ouattara.

Two parties tied for second place with 19 seats respectively. The Alliance for Democracy and Federation-African Democratic Rally (ADF-RDA, whose French-language website can be found here), which supported President Blaise Compaoré in the 2005 and 2010 presidential elections, increased its total seats in parliament by five. The absence of the ADF-RDA (French, includes a list of cabinet members) in Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao’s new government, whose formation was announced around the new year, has generated some discussion in the Burkinabé press (French). The other party, the Union for Progress and Change, is new, having been created in 2010 (French). RFI (French) calls its leader, Zéphirin Diabré, “the new head of the Burkinabé opposition.” According to Jeune Afrique (French), the president’s camp controls 97 seats (this tally must include ADF-RDA), while Diabré’s controls 30.

Turning briefly to the local elections, the Burkinabé press has two notable stories about conflicts playing out in different localities: a tense-sounding wait for revised results in certain quarters of the economic capital Bobo-Dioulasso (French), and a struggle between two conflicting versions of the official results in the rural commune of Tema Bokin (French).

Finally, this editorial (French) contains some interesting musings on the coupled elections as a “crucial step before the presidential election of 2015″ and on their results as evidencing not so much “change,” but rather “renewal.” The author writes, “The national political chessboard is indeed being completely rearranged, between announced divorces and assumed reconciliations…”

Africa News Roundup: Burkina Faso Election Results, MUJWA Terrorist Designation, Eastleigh Bombing, and More

I wrote recently about elections in Burkina Faso and Somaliland. Here are legislative and municipal election results from Burkina Faso:

[President Blaise] Compaore’s CDP party secured 58 seats while allies in the broader coalition secured a further 22 seats in the December 2 vote, according to results for 102 constituencies announced late on Thursday.

The results for a further 25 seats have not yet been announced but Compaore’s majority has been secured despite the opposition UPC party winning 15 seats, a record for the opposition in the poor, land-locked nation.

I have not found full results for Somaliland, but preliminary results were released Thursday, causing protests in Hargeisa.

IRIN:

The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) 2009, also known as the Kampala Convention, came into force on 6 December; it is the world’s first legally binding instrument to cater specifically to people displaced within their own countries.

Adopted at an AU summit in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, the Convention required ratification by 15 member countries before it could enter into force; Swaziland became the 15th country to do so on 12 November, joining Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. At least 37 AU members have also signed the Convention but have yet to ratify it.

The Committee to Protect Journalists on the shooting of a South Sudanese columnist, the detention of two Al Jazeera employees in Mali, and the convictions of three Cameroonian journalists.

Nigeria’s Guardian on recent attacks by Boko Haram, including the destruction of twenty-seven schools in Borno and Yobe States.

A bombing claimed three lives in Eastleigh, Nairobi, Kenya yesterday.

McClatchy: “Visit to Kismayo, Somalia, Shows al Shabab Militants Still Roam Countryside.”

Yesterday, the US State Department labeled the Movement for Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), part of the Islamist coalition in northern Mali, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

What else is happening?

Quick Notes on Elections in Somaliland and Burkina Faso

Two major elections took place recently within this blog’s zone of coverage. On November 28, Somaliland held municipal elections. On December 2, Burkina Faso held parliamentary and municipal elections.

Somaliland

Initial international commentary on the elections in Somaliland has largely focused on assessing the integrity of the process. You can read the preliminary report from an international election observation mission here. An excerpt:

With a fuller team assessment to come in early December, preliminary indications suggest that, despite some reports of violence, and no voting taking place in some disputed districts in the country’s east, Somaliland’s electorate has, once again,turned out with enthusiasm and in large numbers.

Particularly heartening has been wide participation by female voters, a boost in numbers of female candidates and, thanks to the lowering of the qualifying age, youthful candidates standing in significant numbers. However, at this interim stage, a few concerns have emerged, including, once again, apparent attempts at underage and multiple voting.

Observers have also reported excessive use of force by security forces outside polling stations in some areas; some poor organisation surrounding the electoral process, including delayed opening of polling stations; insufficient electoral materials; and technical problems with voter safeguards, such as the ink designed to prevent multiple voting.

Aaron Pangburn has more on various concerns about the elections. He also lays out how the outcome of these elections will affect the political arena going forward:

The new electoral law passed in 2011, allows for officially registered political associations to challenge Somaliland’s three legal political parties (President Silanyo’s KULMIYE, UCID and UDUB) in municipal elections. Five new associations (UMADDA, DALSAN, RAYS, WADANI and HAQSOOR) met the registration requirements and were approved by the RAC.

In order to become an official party, the law initially requires a minimum of 20% in each of Somaliland’s six regions. The system limits their populations’ choices to three political parties to ensure broad based policy platforms, and to avoid previous tendency of narrow clan-based coalitions. The campaign was particularly vibrant and regulated, with each party adopting a different color and symbol to bring their supporters together, but with a structured schedule for the party rallies.

Pangburn also comments, significantly, that “unfortunately for the people of Somaliland a transparent and mostly peaceful process will not drastically redefine their standing in the international community. Rather, it will be how they manage their external relationships with Somalia and their regional neighbors that will have the greatest effect on their pending application for statehood.”

Burkina Faso

International coverage of the “coupled” parliamentary and municipal elections in Burkina Faso has focused on several interlinked themes. Commentary has focused largely on assessing the prospects for the stability of the regime of President Blaise Compaore. Recurring themes in coverage include:

  • Noting that these elections follow the protests and mutinies of spring/summer 2011 (see AP and AFP);
  • Assessing the integrity of the vote, especially the performance of the National Independent Electoral Commission, which was reformed after the protests (see VOA);
  • Speculating that if the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress wins a “decisive” majority, it could seek to undo term limits on Compaore’s tenure as president (see Reuters).

*****************************

Results are expected by December 7 in Burkina Faso (French), and soon (though I have not seen a specific date) in Somaliland.

What do you see as the significance of these elections?

Africa News Roundup: Abdel Aziz Back to France, Jubaland Plans, Muslim Protests in Ethiopia, Trials of Mutineers in Burkina Faso, and More

The United Nations Security Council is considering a plan by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to deploy troops in Mali. The French government has urged the UNSC to pass the resolution approving the force by December 20.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who was shot on October 13, returned to Mauritania one week ago after an extended convalescence in France. Yesterday he announced that he will return to France briefly for further medical treatment, raising questions about the state of his health. At the same press conference, Abdel Aziz also stated his opposition to an external military intervention in Mali.

AFP: “Renewed Flooding Threatens Niger Capital.”

Garowe on “Jubaland”:

According to Jubaland authorities, there have been five committees set up to establish the Jubaland state in southern Somalia.

The committees include a Security Committee, Election Committee, Selection Committee, Logistics and Financial Committee, and an Awareness Committee, according to Jubaland sources. Each committee consists of 11 members.

The committees will be fundamental in creating the Jubaland state that has been backed by IGAD regional bloc.

IRIN:

After almost a decade of rebel rule, northern Côte d’Ivoire is coming to terms with a new authority as the government of President Alassane Ouattara, who assumed power some 18 months ago, establishes its presence in a region which effectively split from the rest of the country.

Aman Sethi’s op-ed on the Muslim protests in Ethiopia.

Reuters:

Seven gendarmes were jailed on Thursday for taking part in last year’s military mutinies in Burkina Faso, in the first trial linked to the outburst of deadly riots, protests and looting in the normally peaceful West African nation.

A new video from Abubakar Shekau of Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

What else is happening?