Africa Blog/Reports Roundup: Somalia Famine, Mali Elections, Baga, and More

Famine Early Warning Systems Network (.pdf): “Mortality Among Populations of Southern and Central Somalia Affected by Severe Food Insecurity and Famine during 2010-2012.”

Africa Research Institute: “After Boroma: Consensus, representation and parliament in Somaliland.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Toward an Economic Recovery in Somalia.”

Bruce Whitehouse: “Why Mali Won’t Be Ready for July Elections.”

AFP:

Senegal and Chad signed an agreement on Friday to allow special tribunal judges to carry out investigations in Chad into former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre, ahead of his trial for war crimes.
Habre’s prosecution, delayed for years by Senegal where he has lived since being ousted in 1990, will set a historic precedent as until now African leaders accused of atrocities have only been tried in international courts.

Financial Times:

“A French writer from Algeria,” was how a tight-lipped Albert Camus characterised himself in October 1957 on accepting his nomination as the second-youngest winner of the Nobel prize in literature. These simple words concealed a churning heart. The normally voluble Camus, then 43, was in the midst of a period of self-imposed silence.

After years of championing equal rights for Arabs in his native Algeria, Camus, the son of a Pied-Noir family descended from European settlers, found himself in the uncomfortable position of rejecting any notion of his homeland gaining independence from France.

Jacques Enaudeau: “In Search of the ‘African Middle Class’.”

Baobab: “Djibouti’s Development: Location, Location, Location.” A video with a link to a report.

Africa in DC: “Anti-Federalism, Colonial Nostalgia, and Development in Nigeria: Lagos State Governor at SAIS.”

Alkasim Abdulkadir: “After Baga, JTF Lost in a Maze of Rocks and Hard Places.”

Al Jazeera: “Jailed Boko Haram Members Seek Pardon from Nigeria.”

Africa Blog Roundup: Piracy, Remittances, Chinua Achebe, Kenyans and Finns, and More

Baobab asks why piracy is falling off the coast of Somalia:

An alternative, more worrying, explanation may be that Somalia’s pirate gangs have temporarily closed up shop to do some stock-taking, during a period of particularly bad weather. In the week leading up to the release of the IMB report, three vessels were ransomed, including a UAE-flagged ship that had been held for two years. According to this theory, the pirates are clearing their stock of hostages and hijacked ships while they wait for the weather to change and the international community to tire of an expensive policing operation. In the meantime it still pays well.

Lesley Anne Warner looks at piracy numbers for Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea.

Amb. David Shinn flags a report on the US military base in Djibouti.

Roving Bandit flags a working paper on international remittances in Nigeria.

The Apps4Africa 2012 Business Challenge.

Tolu Ogunlesi on Chinua Achebe.

Sean Jacobs: “What would happen if you made a film about a key figure in Finnish history and cast Kenyan actors?”

Carmen McCain on “the first time a full translation of a soyayya novel has been published internationally.” Soyayya is Hausa for “love.”

What are you reading?

Africa Blog Roundup: Benghazi, Oil, Achebe, Kismayo, and More

Josh Rogin:

The State Department’s Accountability Review Board (ARB), meant to review the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, met for the first time at the State Department Thursday.

[…]

The ARB is charged with determining the extent to which the incident was security-related, whether the security systems and procedures at that mission were adequate and were properly implemented, the impact of intelligence and information availability, and any other facts and circumstances that might be relevant to the appropriate security management of the United States missions abroad.

Roving Bandit on the oil deal between Sudan and South Sudan:

Whilst this seems like a good deal for North Sudan in the short run and a good deal for South Sudan in the long run, my main concern is the hold-up problem. What is stopping North Sudan ripping up the agreement in 3 years, demanding a higher cut, and just confiscating oil (again)?

Texas in Africa on child soldiers:

The dilemma in the Congo is this: while everyone agrees that the use of child soldiers is a horrible, inexcusable human rights violation, it is far from clear that disengaging from the Congolese government on military issues will end those abuses.

Loomnie excerpts two reviews of Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country.

Emeka Okafor on hip hop in Nigeria.

Baobab on the potential impact of debt forgiveness on Guinea, and on cultural differences between Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

Somalia Newsroom: “Al Shabaab, Jubbaland, and the Future of Kismayo.”

At Focus on the Horn, Dr. Samson Bezabeh discusses Djibouti’s politics with reference to Sasha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator.”

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?

Ethiopia: Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Illness and Potential Political Changes in the Greater Horn

When Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi missed an African Union summit this past weekend, rumors spread that he was ill. News agencies reported yesterday that Meles was in “critical condition” in Brussels. By late in the day the Ethiopian government had announced that Meles was “in good condition.” Under Article 75 of the 1994 Ethiopian constitution (.pdf), Deputy Prime Minister (and Minister of Foreign Affairs) Haile-Mariam Desalegne will act on the Prime Minister’s behalf in his absence.

Meles, a former rebel leader who took power in 1991, has previously stated his desire to step down when his current term ends in 2015. If Meles leaves office, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front will almost certainly retain power, but Meles’ absence would represent a significant political change for Ethiopia.

Indeed, Meles’ illness potentially foreshadows a coming period of political change (specifically the installation of new heads of state) for several countries in the greater Horn of Africa. Change could occur in several ways.

First, there is retirement. Meles is not the only leader in the region who has said he will step down in 2015 – Sudanese President Omar al Bashir made the same promise during a small wave of protests in early 2011, and Djibouti’s President Ismael Guellah has stated that he will step down in 2016. Some observers have doubted the sincerity of these pledges, but Meles in particular sometimes seems fatigued and ready to give up the job, an appearance that this illness underscores.

Elections will bring changes in leadership elsewhere in the region. Many observers expect Somalia’s ongoing political transition, which includes presidential elections next month, to produce a government fairly similar in personnel to the current Transitional Federal Government. But in Kenya, presidential elections set to take place in 2013 must produce a new head of state. President Mwai Kibaki, who has reached the limit of two five-year terms, cannot run again, leaving the field open to a number of major politicians, including current Prime Minister Raila Odinga and current Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

Other transitions, as Meles’ case reminds us, could come about because of sudden illness or death, a grim possibility but one that must be mentioned. These leaders are not old: indeed, all of them (not counting Kibaki) are short of seventy – Meles was born in 1955, Bashir in 1944, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir in 1951, Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in 1964, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki in 1946, Djibouti’s President Ismail Guellah in 1947, and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni around 1944. Yet four of them have been in power for over nineteen years (Museveni came to power in 1986, Bashir in 1989, Meles in 1991, and Isaias in 1993). The high stress of being head of state seems to accelerate aging in some leaders. There remain only six African leaders who have been in office longer than Museveni.

Finally, no leader in the region has faced a monumental threat from mass protests, but significant anti-regime protests have occurred in the last two years in Sudan, Uganda, and Djibouti. If nothing else, such protests add to the pressures these heads of state face in other areas.

It is possible, of course, that in three or four years only Kenya, out of all the countries in the greater Horn, will have new leadership. But a combination of factors could produce transitions in Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and elsewhere, potentially shaking up, within a relatively short period of time, what has long been a fairly stable roster of leaders.

Africa Blog Roundup: Dakar Fashion Week, South Sudan, Dual Citizenship, Lagos, Djibouti, and More

PEN’s statement on the sentencing of Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega.

Also from Ethiopia, reports of clashes between police and Muslim protesters (some background here).

Africa Is A Country on the cultural politics of representing Africa in fashion (and how Dakar Fashion Week breaks the mold):

As designers continue to release fantasy collections inspired by their latest trip to exotic, mystical and faraway lands (Michael KorsGiorgio Armani) and fashion editorials feature white models amidst backgrounds of hyper-sexualized dark bodies in seemingly equally dark continents (Daria Werbowy for Interview Magazine), it is clear that for the fashion world, Africa represents a sort of otherness. That otherness, and especially the sexuality of the other, is marketed as flavor and spice, something new, sexually raw and stimulating. Whether depicted in high-fashion advertisements or on the runway, racial difference becomes both at once threateningly pleasurable and seductively dangerous, positioning it at the intersection of most intimate obsessions with desire and death.

Lesley Anne Warner on Washington and Africa policy:

On one hand, DC is a highly intellectual, international city brimming with opportunity and access. On the other hand, it can be very insular and one can easily fall into the trap of assuming all knowledge can be found in DC or its immediate vicinity. It’s the latter that irks me.

On top of having writer’s block, I’ve also had a very introspective week – which is why I was reminded of this Beltway dichotomy at an Africa event I recently attended. The speaker was addressing a pretty controversial topic, but was very politic in their remarks and when it came to Q&A. Their remarks did not spark a heated debate, which should have been the case given the subject matter. Instead, it sounded like a pitch for maintaining the status quo of U.S. engagement in Africa – regardless of the inherent idiosyncrasies of our approach (security at the expense of democracy, for example), or any potential areas for improvement.

Amb. David Shinn flags two items from the US Institute of Peace on the trajectory of South Sudan.

Dr. Kim Yi Dionne on “Diaspora, Development, and Dual Citizenship”:

Last month, Malawi President Joyce Banda traveled to the UK and US to participate in international summits related to aid and development. During President Banda’s visit to the US, she spoke at a specially convened meeting of the Malawi Washington Association (MWA), an organization of the Malawian diaspora in the US.

There has been a lot of chatter recently about harnessing African diasporas to develop their home countries, and the MWA is no exception. The MWA discussion (at least as seen on the email listserv) focuses on the need for Malawi to offer dual citizenship.

Amb. John Campbell on Lagos, taxation, and success.

Reflections on Djibouti from an American soldier.

Don’t forget, if you are in DC, do come to discuss these topics (including the relationship between DC and Africa!) at Science Club on Tuesday.

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.