Burkina Faso Debates Its Family Code

Several former French colonies in West Africa have witnessed major struggles over the content of “family codes” and “personal status laws,” statutes that deal with marriage, divorce, inheritance, and related matters. These struggles have pitted ostensibly secular governments (influenced by legacies of French secularism or laicite) against constituencies from what you might call “Muslim civil society.” One such struggle occurred in Senegal in the 1970s, while another broke out in Mali from 2009 to 2011.

In 1990, Burkina Faso* implemented a “Code for Persons and the Family,” the text of which I have been unable to locate. Recently the country’s Ministry for Women’s Advancement commissioned a study (French) on amending the Code. A new debate concerning this law has begun. It will be important to see who joins the debate and how it proceeds. Here are two perspectives from the Burkinabe press:

One author (French) says, “Even though perceived as being an advance in favor of the rights of women, it is noticed more and more that this text includes clauses that discriminate against women and girls” with regard to inheritance, property, and other matters. She goes on to cite discrepancies between the Code and the international statutes on women’s rights that Burkina Faso has ratified. The article, quoting an official from the Ministry for Women’s Advancement, suggests that the age of marriage may be a key focus of debate.

Another commentator (French) focuses on the renewed debate in the country concerning polygamy, which remains legal. The author questions whether such a debate is “opportune” for the country at a time when “the worries of Burkinabe women are far from this [issue].” Women have more pressing material and economic concerns than polygamy, the author continues. “How can one find this debate on polygamy opportune when female circumcision, obstetrical fistulas, and the weak attendance at maternity wards are still a reality?” The author goes on to discuss the issue of indigenous versus foreign cultural values, suggesting Burkina Faso must rely on its own values.

The portions of the Burkinabe press that are accessible online give us only a limited glimpse into popular opinion in the country. But it is noteworthy that neither of the linked articles discusses religion at length, focusing more on questions of national culture and its interaction with international norms. We will see if Muslim associations and constituencies (or Christians and other non-Muslim groups!) begin to put forth arguments with a specifically religious character.

*where Muslims represent a smaller proportion of the population (60%) than Mali (90%) or Senegal (94%).

Africa News Roundup: South Sudanese Oil, ECOWAS Meeting in Mali, Flooding in Nigeria, and More

AP: “South Sudan ordered oil companies to restart production Thursday and officials said oil export could resume in about 90 days, ending a nearly nine-month shutdown following a dispute with Sudan over borders and oil.”

IRIN with a piece that is worth thinking about in the context of how the Islamist coalition in northern Mali works to attract support:

Hundreds of displaced northerners in southern Mali are risking life under Sharia law to return home, lured by the prospect of jobs, free water and electricity, and in some parts, relatively cheaper food, Malians in the north and south told IRIN.
Islamist groups have removed taxes on many basic goods, say traders in the region, provide erratic electricity and water services at no charge, and have fixed the price of some basic foods. They are also paying youths to join their ranks, as talk of intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mounts.

A major meeting of ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations took place in Bamako yesterday.

Lagun Akinloye on recent flooding in Nigeria.

Garowe writes that talks between the Ethiopian government and the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front have hit “deadlock.”

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and others have raised the possibility that al Shabab, now that its major strongholds in southern Somalia have fallen to African Union forces, may seek to establish more of a presence in Puntland. The BBC reports on a seizure of weapons imported into Puntland that were apparently meant for al Shabab.

Yesterday I wrote about border issues in Niger, but neglected to mention that this week Niger and Burkina Faso were at the International Court of Justice to settle a border dispute. It’s worth noting how colonial legacies still come into play: “During the hearings, Burkina Faso explained that the delimitation of the disputed part should be based on a 1927 French colonial decree, when both countries were part of French West Africa, while Niger contended that the decree was not precise enough to define the frontier in certain areas and asked the Court to delimit it by using a 1960 map of the French Institut Géographique as adjusted with factual evidence of territorial sovereignty.”

What else is happening?

Africa News Roundup: Protests in Nigeria and Sudan, New PM in Ethiopia, Senate Scrapped in Senegal, and More

Following protests in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere this week, Muslims protested yesterday in Jos, Nigeria and Khartoum, Sudan against an inflammatory anti-Islamic video. The Chief Imam of Jos Central Mosque called for restraint and discouraged the turn to street protests.

Ethiopia is expected to name a new prime minister this weekend, to replace the late Meles Zenawi.

IRIN: “Kenya’s Deadly Mix of Frustration, Politics and Impunity”

Senegal’s National Assembly voted Thursday to disband the country’s Senate as a means of freeing up funds for flood relief.

Also in Senegal, a Gambian opposition group sets up shop.

Burkina Faso will hold legislative elections on December 2. The opposition (French) has written to President Blaise Compaore complaining that only 55% of voting-age citizens are registered to vote, and calling for a delay of the elections until 2013.

Leaders from the northern branch of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement were in Washington, DC this week, meeting with officials at the State Department.

What else is happening?

Africa Blog Roundup: Clinton in Africa, Oil in Uganda, Senegal and Habre, and More

Habiba Osman: “On Hillary Clinton’s Recent Visit to Africa.”

I am therefore not surprised that this African tour has come up now considering the diminishing role that the US is now finding itself in with the Chinese almost taking over as the biggest African donor and trade partner. Sub Saharan Africa, especially, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi in the South have felt the presence of the Chinese greatly with infrastructure being built everywhere in these countries, courtesy of the Chinese government.

Politically, Clinton’s visit is therefore timely as some of most African states have openly declared that they are in favour of the Chinese donations, which seem to have no strings attached. By strings, I mean, adherence to the rule of law, respect for human rights and observance of good governance. Africa’s relationship with China has gained international attention and is a sure factor in destabilising America’s role as the sole super power.

Tony Otoa Jr. on oil and civil society in Uganda.

Lesley Anne Warner: “Kenya’s Coast Province Could Be Flashpoint in Run-Up to Elections.”

Amb. John Campbell on recent violence at a South African platinum mine.

Peter Dorrie on President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso:

To adequately judge Blaise Compaoré’s record of bringing development and prosperity to his people, it is first of all important to remind oneself that he has been in power since 1987, a full quarter of a century. More than half the population of his country has only known his rule.

Despite the period of peace that Burkina experienced during this time, and a comparatively generous 13 Billion US Dollars in international development assistance, the country still ranks only 181st out of 187 countries in terms of human development. All of the other bottom ten countries in the HDI ranking experienced devastating civil wars during this time – except Guinea, which instead had to put up with a brutal military dictatorship. To put it bluntly: Blaise Compaoré is the only African head of state who managed to dramatically limit the development of his country without declaring outright war on it.

Jason Stearns asks, “When Will Donors Un-Freeze Aid to Rwanda?”

Writing in Nigeria’s Daily Trust, Idang Alibi comes out against Senegal’s planned trial for former Chadian leader Hissene Habre.

Anne Campbell weighs in on the issue of African presidents and overseas educations.

Baobab on electricity in Somalia.

Last but not least, a reflection from Carmen McCain on fasting during Ramadan as a non-Muslim.

Africa News Roundup: Refugees in Darfur, Clinton and Nigeria, Meles Zenawi, Kenya’s Elections, and More

Darfur:

All 25,000 people living in a refugee camp in Sudan’s Darfur region have fled amid fighting between armed militia groups and Sudanese government forces, U.N. officials said Friday.

Many of the refugees have sought shelter in nearby Kutum town or the Zariba area, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) said, but lack water, food and sanitation.

[...]

A UNAMID statement Monday said the violence began after an incident on August 1, when three armed men carjacked the local district commissioner and his driver and shot them dead.
“Subsequently, on the same day armed men surrounded Kassab, looted the market, burnt down the Sudanese Police post in the camp and reportedly killed four persons (three civilians and one police officer) and injured six others,” the statement said.
Security continued to deteriorate over the following days in Kutum town, Kassab camp and another camp, Fataborno, “including fighting between the armed elements and government forces, as well as looting and displacement of civilians,” it said.

Map of Kutum. And a story from IRIN: “Chad: Darfur’s Forgotten Refugees.”

A New York Times editorial on the negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan:

Sooner rather than later, both sides also have to deal with even more fundamental challenges: improving governance, ending human rights violations and eradicating corruption. Sudan and South Sudan are inextricably intertwined. If the two can carry out the [recently announced oil transit] fee deal, they will have a better chance to resolve other critical issues.

AP reports that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Nigerian security officials to  “create an ‘intelligence fusion cell’ that would combine information from the military, spy services, police and other federal, state and local agencies.” The US is apparently ready to enhance its intelligence cooperation with Nigeria.

A video is circulating showing French hostages held by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Burkina Faso’s Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole traveled to northern Mali this week to meet with Iyad Ag Ghali, leader of the Islamist militia Ansar al Din.

As rumors of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s death circulate, the Ethiopian government says Meles will return from his sick leave in September. Think Africa Press asks, “What Might A Post-Meles Era Bring?”

Arrests of journalists in Djibouti.

Kenya:

Kenya needs to improve security to ensure that voters are not deterred by recent grenade and gun attacks and threats by a coastal separatist movement to disrupt the election due next March, the head of the electoral commission said on Friday.

What else is happening today?

Africa Blog Roundup: Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, and More

Alula Alex Iyasu argues that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s illness is “a terrible [crisis] to waste.”

The next Prime Minister of Ethiopia should take this [economic] potential and impending leadership crisis and turn it into an opportunity – to reform and improve areas hampered by overreaching government policy and an absence of democratic institutions.  There is a golden opportunity to view the private sector as a true partner in national economic growth and not an entity to be feared and stymied. An opportunity to encourage public-private partnership as a means to raise capital for the kinds of ambitious development goals Ethiopia has outlined but lacks the funds. An opportunity to create democratic institutions with truly independent bodies that facilitate, arbitrate and encourage entrepreneurship.

Amb. David Shinn on the oil revenue sharing agreement between Sudan and South Sudan:

If the agreement is confirmed by both sides, I suggested this is a major breakthrough in resolving differences between the two sides. There are, however, at least two other issues that are preventing a reconciliation between Khartoum and Juba.

Amb. Shinn goes on to discuss citizenship and security issues.

G. Paschal Zachary on the death of Ghanaian President John Atta Mills.

Dr. Kim Yi Dionne comments on a recent news article about the deaths of African presidents.

Focus on the Horn: “What Does Ethiopia Represent in the 21st Century?”

The Economist‘s Baobab reports from Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria.

The US State Department’s Dipnote on refugees in Burkina Faso.

What are you reading today?

Africa News Roundup: Traore Returns to Mali, Constituent Assembly Meets in Somalia, Senegal Boosts Electricity, and More

Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore returned home yesterday from France, after a two-month recuperation.

In Somalia, the National Constituent Assembly “began a marathon-nine-day meeting on Wednesday to debate on a provisional constitution, before final ratification by a national referendum.” This is a critical step in the transition process, though it comes behind schedule.

AP on evictions in the Makoko area of Lagos, Nigeria:

Makoko is a sprawling community of bamboo homes and shacks built out of driftwood, close to the University of Lagos campus and visible to daily traffic that plies the Third Mainland Bridge, the link from the mainland to the city’s islands. Those living in Makoko subsist largely as fishermen and workers in nearby saw mills, cutting up water-logged timber that’s floated into the city daily. Some work jobs outside of the slum as gate guards and in other industries, though most live almost entirely within its watery boundaries.

The people of Makoko have created their own life independent from the state, with its own schools and clinics, however ill-equipped. Commerce goes on in its creek alleyways as women sell sizzling dishes and goods from canoes. Others sell videos and telephone airtime cards from the shacks just above the waterline, where a maze of wooden planks connects the homes.

Senegal has received an $85 million loan to help boost electricity.

The Guardian: “Burkina Faso’s School for Shepherds Thrives”

Kenyan presidential candidates Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, even if one of them is elected in March 2013, would still have to stand trial at the International Criminal Court, where they face charges of fomenting post-electoral violence in 2007-2008.

After a strike that cost twelve production days, work has resumed at First Quantum’s Guelb Moghrein mine.

What else is going on?

Rappers and Politicians: Burkina Faso Edition

At times, hip hop and politics have gone hand in glove. In certain ways, American rappers in the 1980s and 1990s (and to a lesser extent the 2000s and the 2010s) were (literally and symbolically) heirs to black political leaders of the 1960s. Tupac Shakur was the son of Black Panthers and he caused almost as much political controversy in his time as they did in theirs. The album cover for KRS-ONE’s 1988 By All Means Necessary recreates a famous photograph of Malcolm X. Many rappers, especially in the early 1990s, were influenced by the Five Percent Nation, founded in 1964 by a one-time student of Malcolm X. The list of linkages between the political activism of the 1960s and the musical florescence of the 1980s and 1990s goes on and on.

What of African hip hop? An interesting case presents itself in Ismael Sankara, who may (French) or may not (French) be the son of Captain Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso. The elder Sankara, who took power in a 1983 coup, ruled until his death in a 1987 coup by his one-time companion (and current Burkinabe President) Blaise Compaore. Captain Sankara is famous for his outspoken Marxism and the dramatic changes he introduced in Burkina Faso (which he renamed from Upper Volta). These changes included refusing foreign aid, nationalizing key resources, promoting women’s rights, and pursuing rapid development through expansion of infrastructure and other programs.

Ismael, if one accepts that he is Capt. Sankara’s son (some members of the extended Sankara family reject the claim), was born in 1987, six months before his father’s death. He grew up with his mother mostly in Miami, where he became involved in music. As captured in a short documentary about him entitled “The Rhythm of My Life,” on a 2010 trip to Gabon he made contacts who helped him record an album that is due to appear shortly. Several videos from the album have already circulated, including a song entitled “Real Africans,” embedded below.

How does Ismael deal with his father’s legacy? In “The Rhythm of My Life,” he states that his father “knew that this vision wouldn’t last long,” but frequently said that “music is the future.”

Ismael has not, from what I can tell, specifically addressed or criticized the existing political situation in Burkina Faso. At one point (either 2008 or 2010, according to different sources), Ismael performed in Burkina Faso with Sean Paul, and accepted an invitation to dine with President Compaore. There seems to be no open enmity between the two men.

The video for “Real Africans” is worth contemplating for what it says about more subtle forms of the elder Sankara’s legacy, as well as for its depiction of Africa. The video makes no reference to Capt. Sankara, except perhaps for Ismael’s invocation of his “royal bloodline,” but the video is reminiscent of Damian Marley’s “Welcome to Jamrock”: in both cases, the viewer sees the musician totally at home, a leader, in his and his father’s land, a man of and yet adored by the people. In Ismael’s case this is underscored by the chorus’ repeated line, “I never left but they sayin that I’m back again.” The video was not, however, filmed in Burkina Faso, but rather in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; to have filmed the video in a city like Ouagadougou would have, I believe, seemed like an overt act of political dissent against Compaore.

Lyrically, “Real Africans” portrays Africa in mostly grim terms. Violence, political repression, corruption, conflict, and poverty are recurring themes, as Ismael speaks of “child rebels with automatics and dark minds.” The visual tone of the video is somewhat less grim: amid a montage of scenes from dirt streets, the people often look happy. There are, of course, other ways to present Africa, so it is interesting that Ismael has chosen this mixture. How he defines the “real” is also significant given that he is a rapper from the diaspora making an overt claim to belonging.

Africa has produced dozens of excellent rappers, both on the continent and in the diaspora. Many of them address political themes and some have been active in politics, notably in Senegal. But Ismael Sankara, if his lineage is genuine, presents a special connection between music and politics. It will be interesting, when the full album comes out, to see whether it sheds more light on how he deals with his father’s legacy and with Africa’s present.

On US Bases in Africa

The Washington Post‘s Craig Whitlock published an article yesterday entitled “U.S. expands secret intelligence operations in Africa.” The piece is a sequel of sorts to one he and Greg Miller wrote some nine months ago, entitled “U.S. assembling secret drone bases in Africa, Arabian Peninsula, officials say.” As with that last article, there is a mix of old and new information; while the 2011 article focused on East Africa, and was particularly noteworthy for passages on Ethiopia, the new article is noteworthy especially for passages on Burkina Faso and Mauritania – although as the article points out, US forces and contractors have been operating in those countries for half a decade or more.

The following passage not only highlights the length of the US military’s tenure in Burkina Faso, it also hints at the political complexities, both within the US government and between the US government and its partners, of having such a presence:

The U.S. military began building its presence in Burkina Faso in 2007, when it signed a deal that enabled the Pentagon to establish a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment in Ouagadougou. At the time, the U.S. military said the arrangement would support “medical evacuation and logistics requirements” but provided no other details.

By the end of 2009, about 65 U.S. military personnel and contractors were working in Burkina Faso, more than in all but three other African countries, according to a U.S. Embassy cable from Ouagadougou. In the cable, diplomats complained to the State Department that the onslaught of U.S. troops and support staff had “completely overwhelmed” the embassy.

In addition to Pilatus PC-12 flights for Creek Sand, the U.S. military personnel in Ouagadougou ran a regional intelligence “fusion cell” code-named Aztec Archer, according to the cable.

Burkina Faso, a predominantly Muslim country whose name means “the land of upright men,” does not have a history of radicalism. U.S. military officials saw it as an attractive base because of its strategic location bordering the Sahel, the arid region south of the Sahara where al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate is active.

Unlike many other governments in the region, the one in Burkina Faso was relatively stable. The U.S. military operated Creek Sand spy flights from Nouakchott, Mauritania, until 2008, when a military coup forced Washington to suspend relations and end the surveillance, according to former U.S. officials and diplomatic cables.

The article is very much worth reading in full.

In my view having bases in a country involves the US in (or exposes the US to, if you prefer) local politics, one way or another. US military involvement in local politics, including in Africa, is nothing new. But it is worth pointing out, time and again, that most of the key partner countries for the military in Africa are run by presidents/prime-ministers-for-life: Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi (in power since 1995), Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore (in power since 1987), Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni (in power since 1986), Djibouti’s Ismael Omar Guellah (in power since 1999), etc. The contradictions between such partnerships and stated US ideals of democracy promotion are now so familiar as to be hardly worth mentioning. A more pragmatic point may be that the stability won through decades of rule by one person or clique can often prove quite brittle when put to the test. Sub-Saharan African leaders who faced strong protest movements in 2011 (or in years previous) tended, unlike their Tunisian and Egyptian counterparts, to survive those tests (this includes Compaore), but sub-Saharan African protest movements have at least shown the potential for serious tension to break out in places where the Pentagon might not have expected it to. The example of how the 2008 coup in Mauritania disrupted US operations there merits reflection.

I have not seen much of a reaction to the Washington Post story in different African countries’ online press so far, save this article on a Malian site (French). The Nigerian papers often track US news quite closely, so we will see if they pick up this story in the coming days.

Africa News Roundup: Boko Haram Suicide Bombing, the MNLA and Compaore, Sudan-South Sudan Talks, Locusts, and More

Yesterday there was a suicide bombing at the police headquarter in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Officials suspect the rebel movement Boko Haram.

According to AFP, members of the northern Malian rebel group MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad) met with Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore and his foreign minister today. Compaore is the mediator appointed by the Economic Community of West African States.

The latest round of talks between Sudan and South Sudan ended without progress, but the two parties are set to try again on June 21.

Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, AFP reports, could reduce water levels in Lake Turkana, with terrible consequences for “The fishermen and herders eking out an existence on the shores of the majestic lake.”

If you have not already heard about the plague of locusts that may descend on the Sahel, read here. A key excerpt on how politics has affected the situation:

Locusts are usually managed by spraying chemicals that stop the swarms from spreading. Algeria and Libya ordinarily attack the swarms, preventing them from hitting Mali or Niger.

But in the last year, as Libya was wracked by fighting between rival militias in the aftermath of the ouster of Moammar Kadafi and Algeria suffered insecurity along its border, local teams and international experts have been blocked from stopping the swarms, the U.N.  Food and Agriculture Organization  said.

VOA on new businesses and signs of revitalization in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Turkey and Ethiopia:

Saygin Group of Turkey said its Ethiopian subsidiary may generate $100 million in revenue a year from textile manufacturing, amid plans by the Horn of Africa country to boost the industry’s exports to 10 times that amount.

What else is happening today?