Africa News Roundup: Mali Suicide Bombings, Imouraren, Eritrea, and More

Reuters:

At least five suicide bombers died in northern Mali on Friday in attacks aimed at Malian and Nigerien troops which failed to inflict serious casualties on their targets, a spokesman for Mali’s army said.

One of the towns hit was Gossi, the furthest south al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels have struck in a guerrilla war launched against Malian and regional forces since the rebels were driven from their former strongholds in a French-led offensive this year.

BBC:

Doctors have closed the main hospital in Nigeria’s north-eastern city of Maiduguri in protest at alleged police assaults on staff and patients.

They say officers became angry because the hospital mortuary was too full to take the bodies of colleagues killed by suspected Islamist militants.

One doctor told the BBC they would not reopen the hospital to new patients until the government provided them with security to do their work in safety.

Sudan Tribune: “Sudan Approves 22% Pay Raise for Military.”

IRIN: “Understanding the Causes of Violent Extremism in West Africa.”

VOA: “[Central African Republic] Rebels Accused of Major Rights Violations.”

RFI (French): “Areva: The Imouraren Uranium Mine Will Be Operational in Summer 2015, the President of Niger Hopes.”

Amnesty International: “Eritrea: Rampant Repression Twenty Years after Independence.”

Human Rights Watch: “Senegal: Chadian Blogger Expelled.”

Africa Blog Roundup: Eritrea Mutiny, South Sudanese Cows, Algeria and Mali, and More

International Crisis Group: “Eritrea: When Is a Mutiny Not a Mutiny?”

New York Times editorial: “Hope, and Lessons, in Somalia.”

Louisa Lombard on the history and complexity of attempted disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs in the Central African Republic.

Seifulaziz Milas with a pessimistic piece on Sudan.

Lesley Anne Warner: “[South Sudanese President Salva] Kiir Reshuffles the SPLA.”

Internally Displaced: “Cash Cows: The Financial Prospects of Cattle in South Sudan.”

Andrew Lebovich: “Primer on Jihadi Players in Algeria and Mali.”

Max Fisher:

Lots of countries, especially ones that are facing internal threats from militant extremism, have “hard-liners.” But only Algeria has “eradicateurs,” a faction within the Algerian government that has argued, since the civil war broke out in 1991, that the military can never negotiate with Islamist movements and must destroy them outright. The war ended, in 1999, only when an Algerian leader from the opposing faction — “conciliateurs” — outmaneuvered the hard-liners. But that central tension has remained within the government ever since, a particularly Algerian dynamic that is important for understanding the country’s militancy crisis and the government’s response.

Bruce Whitehouse: “Lessons from Diabaly [,Mali].”

Louise Redvers:

I don’t begrudge people getting rich and doing well. Why shouldn’t Africa have billionaires like the rest of the world? But sometimes this obsession to fulfil the “Africa Rising” prophecy blinds us to the real issues.
And in the case of Isabel [Dos Santos], I think celebrating her wealth as this Forbes label does is an insult to the two thirds of Angolans who live in poverty. When I look at Isabel and Dos Santos Inc and see all that money, all I can think of are the suffering Angolans who will never have the chances they have had and for whom water, electricity and sanitation are luxuries.

What are you reading this weekend?

Coup Rumors and Reports from Eritrea and South Sudan

Eritrea

Martin Plaut:

At around 10am on 21 January a contingent of Eritrean troops stormed the state television station. They rounded up the staff – all employees of the Ministry of Information – and forced the director of Eritrea TV, Asmellash Abraha Woldu, to read a statement calling for:
the freeing of all prisoners of conscience
the implementation of the Eritrean constitution
and stating that the ministry of information was under their control.
Almost immediately the television broadcast was interrupted, and remained off the air for several hours, before resuming its broadcasts with pre-recorded material. This is about all that is clear.

Al Jazeera:

The small country in the horn of Africa remains isolated and is often described as repressed.

With thousands of political prisoners, a constitution that remains in limbo, and a president who has failed to keep promises of reform, analysts say more challenges are inevitable.

The BBC has more reporting, while Think Africa Press takes a look at Eritrea’s present and its possible future. Jay Ufelder, meanwhile, reminds us that there’s more to events like these than the equation “poverty+repression=coups.”

South Sudan

The BBC:

South Sudan has denied to the BBC that the dismissal of more than 30 top army officers has anything to do with a rumour about a coup attempt.

The country’s information minister said the changes were been made to bring younger people into top positions.

On Monday, all six deputy chiefs of staff were removed and 29 major generals were dismissed.

It is the biggest shake-up of the military since South Sudan became independent in July 2011.

More here and here is the official document from the Government of South Sudan, via their website.

What do you make of these events?

Africa Blog Roundup: Ethiopia and Eritrea, Somalia, Uganda, and More

Aaron Maasho:

Ethiopia and Eritrea are still at each others’ throats. The two neighbours fought hammer and tongs in sun-baked trenches during a two-year war over a decade ago, before a peace deal ended their World War I-style conflict in 2000. Furious veRed Sea, UNrbal battles, however, have continued to this day.

Yet, amid the blistering rhetoric and scares over a return to war, analysts say the feuding rivals are reluctant to lock horns once again. Neighbouring South Sudan and some Ethiopian politicians are working on plans to bring both sides to the negotiating table.

Reem Abbas: “Escaping Military Service and Kidnap, One Eritrean Woman’s Ordeal.”

Somalia Newsroom: “Al Shabaab’s Changing State in Somalia.”

Laura Mann:

On October 11ththe Rift Valley held its first ‘Nairobi Forum’. They invited Ken Menkhaus, Amal Ismail, Jabril Abdulla and Matt Bryden to discuss the post-election climate in Somalia. The former Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Affey, who was chairing the proceedings, joked: “We wanted to show Kenya what it means to be a democratic nation”.

All parties agreed that Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is a man who combines two clean hands with enormous street cred. There is reason for ‘cautious optimism’ even amidst the challenges ahead. Ken Menkhaus argued that it was not the election of this single remarkable man that was important, but the extensive support network behind him. Describing this network as a ‘constructive elite,’ Menkhaus clarified that this was not a mass uprising ‘Somali Spring’ but a civic mobilization of determined professionals tired of warlordism and ineffective foreign interventions alike. These individuals have been on the ground for the past 20 years, building hospitals, schools, universities and private businesses. They have spent the past 20 years “navigating the streets” as Ken Menkhaus put it. They have learnt how to negotiate deals with difficult parties, how to build trust across clans and most importantly, they know how to get things done. Jabril Abdulla added that these negotiating skills are important. The gradual expansion of the state will not just involve institutions, but people, some benign and some less palatable. Getting warlords to engage in politics is one of the key challenges.

Sociolingo flags UNECA’s 2012 report “Unleashing Africa’s Potential as a Pole of Global Growth.”

UN Dispatch: “UK, Ireland, and Denmark Suspend Aid to Uganda.”

Roving Bandit: “Cash Transfers in Northern Kenya.”

Shelby Grossman: “The Monotony of the Generator Guy’s Work.”

What are you reading today?

Africa News Roundup: Sudan and Israel, Oil and Floods, Mali and Drones, and More

IRIN: “Sahel Crisis: Lessons to Be Learnt.” One key point:

Pastoralists are affected by food access issues earlier than other groups and need support to access animal fodder, water, vaccinations and to destock, in March and April, not May and June.

This need is rarely reflected in early warning or response, said aid agencies. Pastoralists’ needs are still relegated to a few specialist NGOs rather than being addressed through national systems and as a result they remain marginalized, said Gubbels. Further, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which could be a vocal advocate on their behalf, did not clearly ring the alarm bell to donors on their needs, said NGOs.

During heavy floods in Nigeria recently, oil production has fallen from this year’s average of 2.5 million barrels per day to around 2.1-2.2 million.

Sudan has accused Israel of bombing the Yarmouk weapons factory in Khartoum on Wednesday. NPR: “Israel officials never publicly confirm nor deny their country’s involvement in overseas operations. But speaking anonymously to NPR, an Israeli intelligence officer says that Israel does -– most definitely –- operate in Sudan.” Time has more, as does McClatchy (h/t Armin Rosen).

BBC: “Is the World Ready to Take on Mali’s Islamists?” and AP on French surveillance drones in northern Mali.

The World Bank: “Africa Can Feed Itself, Earn Billions, and Avoid Food Crises by Unblocking Regional Food Trade.”

South Sudan as a diplomatic actor in its region:

Newly independent South Sudan plans to help resolve the long-running border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a senior official said on Wednesday.

South Sudan’s minister for cabinet affairs, Deng Alor, said Addis Ababa and Asmara had given the green light for mediation talks on the border, which could start as early as November.

Ethiopian Muslims continue to protest “what they call unconstitutional government interference in religious affairs, heightened by the election of Muslim leaders this month the protesters say were not free or fair.”

The Sahel is one region of concern for US officials who plan to “keep adding names to kill lists” (h/t Ingrid Pederson).

What else is happening?

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.

A Glance at the Eritrean Opposition Online

Yesterday AFP broke the news that an Eritrean opposition figure has disappeared:

An Eritrean opposition party official has been missing for two days in eastern Sudan and there are fears he may have been kidnapped by Asmara’s security agents, the party alleged on Thursday.

Mohammed Ali Ibrahim, a member of the People’s Democratic Party central council, left his house in Kassala town at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) on Tuesday and has not been seen since, the party said in a statement emailed to AFP.

See a map of Kassala here.

Eritrea, which took official independence from Ethiopia in 1993, is infamous for the tight control that the regime of President Isaias Afewerki exercises over the country’s politics, media, and economy. Human Rights Watch has called Eritrea a “giant prison.” Eritrea is a pariah in the regional politics of the Horn, and its neighbors have accused it of supporting rebels, such as Somalia’s al Shabab.

The story about Mohammad Ali Ibrahim’s disappearance made me curious about the Eritrean opposition. Given everything that one hears about the political repression inside Eritrea, it is not surprising that a figure like Ibrahim had taken up residence outside the country. It is also not surprising that the Eritrean opposition has made substantial use of the internet for broadcasting their message. What did surprise me was the sophistication of their websites and the speed with which they are updated – by last night, the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), to which Ibrahim belongs, had already posted a story, in English, about the fears of a kidnapping.

The EPDP was established in 2009/2010. It is a union of three parties, the Eritrean People’s Party (EPP), the Eritrean Democratic Party (EDP), and the Eritrean People’s Movement (EPM). The EDP still has its own functioning website, and the EPM’s is online but apparently not functional. The EPDP emerged out of a pre-existing opposition umbrella group, the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), which also has a website. This cluster of websites is impressive, but I imagine it is only the beginning, as far as Eritrean opposition activists’ online presence is concerned.

The websites of the EPDP, the EDP, and the EDA all have content in English, Arabic, and Tigrinya, one of the main languages of Eritrea. Clearly the proprietors have multiple audiences in mind, national, international, and diasporic.

That the EPDP seeks an international audience is even clearer in its Frequently Asked Questions, a document that emphasizes (in English) the party’s commitment to electoral democracy, nonviolence, secularism, media freedom, human rights, and capitalism. I believe that the party holds these values, and I do not want to sound overly cynical, but I also believe that these values are carefully presented with an eye toward winning Western governments’ sympathies.

Since at least the 1990s (see Arjun Appadurai’s Modernity at Large), observers have been thinking about the powerful ways in which diasporic flows and new media might change/are changing local and global politics.

In some ways, nothing has changed. Opposition figures in exile have used the cutting-edge media of their time to distribute political messages for decades (think Khomeini and casettes). But the Eritrean opposition’s heavily diasporic character and strong online presence exemplify the new kinds of political strategies that are emerging. If nothing else, the movement of ideas and people is getting faster. And I think that the internet has brought ways of addressing multiple audiences at once that are new.

Controlling events on the ground, physically, has not lost its importance, and I do not believe the Eritrean opposition’s sophistication online means it is anywhere close to toppling Afewerki. But if one needs a sign of the importance of the internet, there is the fear it inspires in governments. For example, during periods of protest in Burkina Faso and Uganda last year, those governments attempted to block text-messaging. And if it turns out that the government in Asmara did kidnap Ibrahim – despite an imbalance of power that strongly favors Afewerki – then it may indicate that the Eritrean opposition, confined to exile and the internet though it partly is, still worries the president.