Africa Blog Roundup: Kenya and Somalia, DRC, Equatorial Guinea, West African Food Crisis, and More

The International Crisis Group released a report (.pdf) this week, “The Kenyan Military Intervention in Somalia.” From the executive summary:

The intervention taps into deep-seated Kenyan fears of Somali encroachment and corresponding Somali qualms that Kenya seeks to assert control over territory that was once part of colonial Kenya. Al-Shabaab is trying to exploit Kenyan-Somali grievances against Nairobi and making pan-Somali appeals, although without much apparent success to date. For Kenya’s venture to have a positive outcome, its leadership will need to define its goals and exit strategy more clearly, as well as work effectively with international partners to facilitate reconciliation and the development of effective local government mechanisms in the areas of Somalia where its forces are active, as part of a larger commitment to ending Somalia’s conflicts and restoring stability to the region.

And at Reuters’ Africa Blog: “Has Kenya learned from the 2007/2008 post-election violence?”

Peter Dorrie examines the protests in Senegal with an eye toward issues of nonviolent and violent tactics.

Texas in Africa posts a field report from Ituri, a district in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And at African Arguments, William Townsend looks at the presidential elections held in November in the DRC and asks, “Congo is on the move, but where is it going?”

Shelby Grossman objects to the BBC’s characterization of life in Equatorial Guinea.

Amb. John Campbell discusses food insecurity in West Africa:

Droughts have long been feature of Africa. But their frequency and severity appears to accelerating, and the international community needs a better understanding of their causes. The conventional wisdom is that they result from the interrelationship between climate change, population growth, acute poverty, changing migration patterns, conflict and bad governance. No doubt, broadly speaking this is true, if not necessarily helpful for understanding a particular episode. Famine often is localized in its causes and frequently involves political factors, as it did in Somalia last year, where al-Shabaab blocked international aid efforts and Somali children paid with their lives. It can’t be the money. For the international community $650 million is peanuts. After all, the conventional wisdomis that the U.S. presence in Afghanistan was costing the U.S. taxpayer $300 million per day. Perhaps more important in explaining apparent donor lassitude may be factors such as the international community’s limited attention span, compassion fatigue, and frustration over an apparent inability to deal with the root causes of humanitarian disasters. At least in West Africa, there is no al-Shabaab.

Africa Unchained profiles Liberian reporter Tecee Boley.

And, via Africa Is A Country, Cameroonian rapper Yanigga with “Dans un ghetto près de chez toi” (“In a ghetto near you”) over the beat from “Heaterz,” from Wu-Tang Forever.

US Troops in Uganda: Will History Repeat Itself?

On October 12, US President Barack Obama

authorized the deployment to Uganda of approximately 100 combat-equipped U.S. forces to help regional forces “remove from the battlefield” – meaning capture or kill – Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and senior leaders of the LRA.

The forces will deploy beginning with a small group and grow over the next  month to 100. They will ultimately go to Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with the permission of those countries.

The LRA, formed in the late 1980s, is one of the most brutal rebel groups in the world. Although it began as a rebellion against the Ugandan government, it preys on civilian communities in countries throughout the region.

Halting the LRA is a laudable goal. Killing Kony could fragment and weaken the movement. But the deployment of US troops to Uganda carries political risks, and missions against the LRA have failed in the past. By most accounts, December 2008’s “Operation Lightning Thunder,” a Ugandan-led campaign against the LRA to which the US gave operational support, was a disaster: Kony lived, and many civilians died.

In January 2009, the UN news agency IRIN wrote:

The LRA has been blamed for the murder of hundreds of civilians. Uganda has also faced criticism over the operation. The Enough Project described it as “poorly executed” and “operationally flawed”, noting that “LRA camps were largely empty of fighters and high-level commanders when struck by Ugandan aircraft”. The advocacy group added that Lightning Thunder had made the situation in north-eastern DRC worse by playing to the strengths of the LRA, “who know the tricky terrain better than their adversaries … are able to move and disperse quickly in small numbers … have shown every willingness to loot and pillage to survive”.

Read an even more critical account here.

Even though the design of the current mission is different, the same risks remain: poor coordination among different militaries, civilian deaths, and the inability of local or outside forces to find Kony.

Some believe that this time could be different. In March 2009, Enough called for a second mission, one that would “place civilian protection front and center.” Undoubtedly US civilian and military authorities have carefully studied Operation Lightning Thunder and its failures.

But Richard Downie of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has put together a helpful background piece on the LRA, writes that applying the lessons of the past “will not be easy”:

One of the consequences of Operation Lightning Thunder was that the LRA scattered into smaller groups, making them much more difficult to track down. Kony himself is believed to be operating in the Central African Republic. The groups have discarded any communication equipment that would allow them to be traced and instead rely on runners to relay messages. In addition, the LRA is a hardened guerilla force used to operating in difficult terrain. It has survived against the odds for a quarter of a century. U.S. policymakers and military planners emphasize that there is no quick fix to ending the scourge of the LRA and that even the death or capture of Kony and his senior commanders may not be sufficient to finish off the group unless broader efforts are made to address the grievances that caused it to form in the first place.

Things could be different this time around, but the challenges are large enough to make me pessimistic about the chances of success.

Finally, there is a broader political risk to note. Across Africa, many leaders and ordinary people are wary of deepening US military involvement on the continent. Given direct US military involvement in Libya, various forms of involvement in Somalia, and the planned construction of a US drone base in Ethiopia, this deployment of US troops to Uganda, small though it is, could make for even more nervousness in Africa regarding the United States’ long-term intentions there.

Africa Blog Roundup: Somaliland, Egypt, Failed States, Gender Politics, and More

The Economist‘s Baobab investigates whether a lack of aid has increased government accountability in the unrecognized state of Somaliland.

Venturing a little outside of my normal geographic coverage, I wanted to share this interesting essay by Jimmy Kainja on Egyptian leaders’ resistance to conditional loans. The issues at stake in Egypt have wide relevance:

Egypt has said no to all the loans with strings attached. Egyptian Minister for International Cooperation, Fayza Abu Naga says Egypt has refused a loan from the World Bank “because if found the terms of the loan incompatible with the Egyptian national interests.” She added that the Egyptian government “would not accept dictated by the World Bank and the IMF.”

The minister is also reported to have lodged a complaint with the USA Embassy in Egypt, warning it not to violet Egypt’s sovereignty by dictating conditions for loans. This was “in response to an announcement by the United States Agency for International Development that it would grant Egypt US$165 million to finance projects for education, civic activities and human rights.”

Are we finally coming full-circle with regards to the aid versus sovereignty debate? Of course it is too early to tell but this sends a signal that the days of paternalistic way of providing loans and grants may be waning. Egypt is moving towards democracy, it has to be answerable to its people, not donors. That is the case with any democratic country. Even dictators always claim to work in the interest of their people.

James Dorsey assesses the implications of the Libyan soccer team’s defection.

Loomnie flags a new Accenture report on financial services in Africa.

Louisa Lombard returns to the Central African Republic and reflects on maternal mortality and the position of the ethnographer.

Amb. John Campbell finds signs of hope for Africa in the new Failed States Index.

Jens Pederson writes that in North Sudan, “the political environment seems to have hardened recently,” while “the [economic] situation has gotten more precarious.”

Michael Nelson looks at environmental problems in Ghana.

Laura Seay and Kate Morris debate the potential and the limits of US influence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including the question of whether the appointment of a special envoy to the DRC would have a significant impact on the situation there.

In the wake of First Lady Michelle Obama’s visit to southern Africa, Dan Moshenberg asks, “What’s a young African woman leader, today, and who decides?”

I leave you with an al Jazeera English video on Senegal’s recent protests:

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Sudan, Ethiopia, Qat, Western Sahara, and More

Sudan: Dipnote (the State Department’s blog) posts Special Envoy Scott Gration’s recent remarks in Washington on US diplomatic efforts with Sudan.

Ethiopia: Barry Malone of Reuters Africa Blog asks what comes next for recently freed political activist Birtukan Mideksa.

Somalia: Mogadishuman reports on Islamists’ campaigns against Qat.

DRC: Chris Albon runs the idea of a “humanitarian use of force” in the DRC through the matrix of the Powell Doctrine.

Sahel: Kal writes about how governments in the Sahel play the “terrorism card” and discusses other developments in the region.

Western Sahara: At Africa Monitor, Drew Hinshaw says, “Dormant Western Sahara Threatens to Heat Up.”

While UN envoys have been coaxing Saharan rebels and Moroccan royals to the table, human rights conditions in refugee camps along the Algerian border have deterioatated. The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies has released at least two reports documenting how those camps have become recruitment targets for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb – a terrorist organization and crime syndicate which benefits from any conflict from Morocco and Algeria, the two powerhouses of the Saharan region and with the most at stake in the region’s camapign against lawlessness.

It’s going to take more than a third round of informal chats, [former UN spokesman Abdel Hamide] Siyyame says, to bend Morocco and Polisario, not to mention Algeria and Mauritania (which has intermittently attempted to annex parts of Western Sahara), into a compromise.

“There must be a third party that can propose a serious, comprehensive solution to bring everybody to the negotiation table,” he said.

Yemen: Inside Islam writes on rap in Yemen.

Nowadays, Yemen is often associated with a growing Al-Qaeda movement and seen to be a breeding ground for terrorism. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric, has become an example not only of the growing terrorist influence in Yemen but also in America. However, this is obviously not all there is to Yemen, just as it is not all there is to Islam. Many Muslims artists have used hip-hop and rap to relay messages of change and peace. While one may not think of rap in the context of Yemen,  this needs to change. Yemeni-American Hagage “AJ” Masaed, has been rapping for many years and is using this medium to reach the younger generation and to counter extremist messages.

Algeria: Inside Islam also has a cool post on women soccer fans in North Africa.

I leave you with two more: Africa Is A Country posts on deaths of asylum seekers in the UK, and Chris Blattman asks why more development economics studies focus on Latin America than on Africa.

Tipping Point in Nile Controversy?

Disagreements between countries in the Nile basin grew throughout the spring as Egypt and Sudan refused to join their southern neighbors in a new water-sharing agreement. As things stand now, the negotiations over the agreement could go in several different directions.

The nations that signed the agreement in May – Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya – will not back down. But they will need help to bring the agreement into being.

The five signatories have given the other Nile Basin countries – Egypt, Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – one year to join the pact.

The new deal would need at least six signatories to come into force.

Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have not signed the deal yet and have so far been tight-lipped about whether they plan to or not.

Egypt and Sudan are still saying no to the deal:

Responding to the [latest] developments, Kamal Ali Mohamed, Sudan’s water minister, said his country would now stop co-operating with the NBI because the agreement raised legal issues.

“We are freezing activities regarding the NBI until these issues, these legal implications, are resolved,” he said.

Mohamed’s statement drew expected criticism from Asfaw, who said the Sudanese had not revealed their intention to freeze co-operation during the two-day meeting.

Separately, Mohamed Nasreddin Allam, Egypt’s water resources and irrigation minister, told the Reuters news agency that a meeting to discuss the Nile agreement would be held in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, some time between September and November.

“The deal can not be forced upon us. It will only be an obligation for those countries, not Egypt’s,” he said.

“Ask the Egyptians to leave their culture and go and live in the desert because [you] need to take this water and to add it to other countries? No.

“Egypt has no source of water other than that coming from upstream countries. The upstream countries have many sources and aren’t managing our Nile properly. That’s what we are asking for.”

AFP has more.

I cannot say how this will play out. It may take some time. Still, I wonder whether the momentum does not run against Egypt and Sudan. They have greater control over the Nile, from what I understand, but they are outnumbered. I guess a lot could come down to how Burundi and the DRC move.

Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and the Nile

Not to be overly dramatic, but sometimes I feel that water disputes are a harbinger of an apocalyptic, resource-conflict-filled future that awaits most of humanity. Hopefully we can avoid that future – but water disputes, like the one that has broken out concerning the Nile, are worth watching.

Blue Nile, Ethiopia

First, a little background. The Nile Basin Initiative, an organization at the center of the controversy I discuss below, was “formally launched in February 1999″ to “provid[e] an institutional mechanism, a shared vision, and a set of agreed policy guidelines to provide a basinwide framework for cooperative action.” Its members are Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Eritrea is not a member, though it is home to a small part of the Nile Basin. Wikipedia has a helpful article on “Hydropolitics in the Nile Basin,” which explains that the legacy of colonial-era water rights treaties as well as inequities in use have caused tensions between different countries in the region.

Since 1999, the Nile countries have been working on a treaty, and after long delays they met last week in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to conclude it. But “Egypt has categorically refused to sign the agreement.” Cairo demands that it be able to “maintain its share of 55.5 billion cubic meters of water from the river — more than half of the Nile’s flow” and also to have “veto power over any new irrigation projects undertaken by the other nine riparian states.” So the talks broke down.

Now, with Ethiopia leading, the other nations are pushing back against Egypt and Sudan:

Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal says Egypt is raising technical objections to avoid signing a new framework accord on reallocating shares of Nile River water.  He says seven of the nine member states of the Nile Basin Initiative are going to sign the deal next month, with or without Egypt and Sudan.

[...]

Ethiopian spokesman Shimelis says the accord leaves open a controversial provision on water security in hopes Egypt and Sudan could be persuaded to return to the bargaining table.

[...]

An Egyptian government spokesman was quoted this week as warning that any framework agreement signed without Egypt and Sudan would mean the death of the Nile Basin initiative.

The National quotes an Egyptian policymaker skeptical of the other countries’ power to decisively affect the situation:

Hani Raslan, the director of the Sudan and Nile basin studies programme at the semi-official Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, said he does not expect any serious decisions on a co-operative agreement within the next 20 years.

“These countries are small and fragile, they have many crises, and they act with Egypt like maybe they think they are superpowers,” Mr Raslan said. “That is not real. Egypt must have the right to do anything to protect its people.”

Kenya’s Daily Nation makes the situation sound even more serious. The paper reports that “Egypt, [a] heavily armed powerful nation, previously threatened military action against water contributing nations if they slow the flow of water to Egypt.”

The conflict has drawn substantial coverage in the African press – from South Africa and Uganda, to name two – offering further evidence of the strong feelings around the issue in the region. Some East African voices are demanding action. The Daily Nation editorializes that “countries of the Nile Basin Initiative must call Egypt’s bluff.” When seven countries sign the agreement in Kampala, Uganda on May 14, they will be doing just that.

I think war is unlikely to break out now. But clearly the riverine nations are eager for a sustainable solution to the conflict. Let’s hope the countries of the Nile can reach an accommodation before that eagerness turns to desperation, on either side.

Sunday Africa Blog Roundup: Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and More

On Sudan:

On Somalia:

Killing mosquitos with lasers.

Reuters on the challenges facing Acting Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Ethan Zuckerman has a take on the situation as well.

Why Texas in Africa doesn’t like Nick Kristof.

Advocacy for its own sake is a not laudable goal. Bad advocacy that’s based on bad facts leads to bad policy recommendations. I don’t enjoy attacking anyone who’s putting out bad ideas based on incomplete understandings and faulty assumptions. But I’m not going to ignore them when they do. The Congolese deserve better. And it’s their voices – not Nick Kristof’s or mine – that should be foremost in the debate.

What are you reading today?